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Eastern WA lawmaker proposes law to limit ‘eyesore’ of blinking red wind turbine lights  

Credit:  By Annette Cary | January 17, 2023 | tri-cityherald.com ~~

Wind turbines would no longer be allowed have continuously blinking red lights at night under a bill proposed by new Washington state Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick.

Several states already require Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems for wind turbines that only turn lights on to alert low-flying airplanes as they draw near and then shut off when they have passed.

The legislation, if approved, would apply to the Horse Heaven wind farm proposed for just south of the Tri-Cities along the Horse Heaven ridge line, which is the immediate concern of some of those who support the bill.

But existing wind farms in the state also would be required to install aircraft detection systems meeting Federal Aviation Administration standards by 2026.

Pilots flying at low altitudes at night rely on the blinking lights on wind turbines for safety, “but for many, many others they are a disturbing eyesore and an invasive nuisance,” said Paul Krupin, a Kennewick scientist and attorney, at a hearing on House Bill 1173 on Monday before the Washington state House Environment and Energy Committee.

The lights do not need to be on all the time, he said.

FAA approves light detection

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved systems that detect aircraft radar to turn on only when planes are flying low in the vicinity.

James Conca, a Richland scientist, said at the hearing that the lights are needed only 2% to 3% of the time.

The blinking red lights of the Horse Heaven Clean Energy project would be visible at night up to 20 to 30 miles away, Krupin said.

Plans call for 244 turbines about 500 feet tall or 150 turbines with blades extending about 670 feet high, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

More than 100,000 people would live within six miles of the turbines, the majority of them in city limits, by one analysis done by Krupin and Tri-Cities Community Action for Responsible Environmental Stewardship.

Most wind farms are not built in areas close to so may homes, Conca said.

Elsewhere in the state only 20,000 people live within six miles of a wind turbine, according to Krupin.

Connors said the first time she saw the blinking lights of existing wind turbines in the dark sky along Highway 12 between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, she was startled enough to reach over to her husband.

One Tri-Cities residents told her that the blinking lights are hypnotic and distracting to drivers, she said.

“In Eastern Washington, while we do not have a lot of say … where things are basically sited in our region, it is important to us to protect and maintain the beauty of our landscape,” Connors said.

The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is evaluating the proposal for the Horse Heaven project, with Gov. Jay Inslee making the final decision on it.

Wind turbines too costly?

The Association of Washington Business is concerned that costs for adding aircraft detection lighting systems, particularly on existing wind turbines, would be passed on as higher rates to electricity users, said Peter Godlewski, the group’s director of government affairs for energy, environment and water.

Krupin said the cost of the intermittent lighting systems is not prohibitive and would reduce public opposition to nearby wind turbines. It also could diminish the perceived risks of harm to property values and tourism, he said.

Tri-Cities business leaders have been concerned that the colorful sunsets enjoyed by tourists at wineries from the Tri-Cities to Benton City would be marred by wind turbines along the Horse Heaven ridge line.

Conca estimated that the lighting systems would cost 0.1% of the total cost of the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center.

“These folks are making tons of money on these projects, most of which goes out of state,” Conca said. “So they can certainly do something for the people of this state who are bearing the burden and getting almost none of the benefit.”

The fiscal analysis for the bill estimated a Washington state government cost of $846,000 as rules are developed for aircraft detection lighting systems by the Department of Ecology, in cooperation with the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council and the state Department of Transportation.

Germany began requiring aircraft detection lighting systems for every turbine in the country this year, Connors said.

States that already require the systems include North and South Dakota, Vermont and New Hampshire, with Colorado, Minnesota and Kansas considering the requirement, according to supporters of the bill.

How to comment

To comment on House Bill 1173, go to app.leg.wa.gov/PBC/Bill/1173.

To provide a comment on the draft environmental impact statement for the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center go to comments.efsec.wa.gov and select “Horse Heaven Draft EIS comments.” The draft environmental impact statement considers options to mitigate the impacts, including visual, of the project.

Comments also may be mailed to Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, 621 Woodland Square Loop SE, Lacey, WA 98504-3172. They must be received no later than Feb. 1, according to a recent clarification from the agency.

Source:  By Annette Cary | January 17, 2023 | tri-cityherald.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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