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News / Northwest

WA public hearing set on large Tri-Cities wind farm. Not everyone will get to speak

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: August 14, 2023, 7:46am

KENNEWICK — A public comment hearing is set on the proposed Horse Heaven wind farm project, but not everyone will be allowed to speak.

The hearing, which will be virtual, is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23.

Administrative Law Judge Adam Torem will hear concerns about the proposed project that would stretch 24 miles along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.

Up to 244 turbines are proposed by Scout Clean Energy.

Tri-Cities CARES, a group opposing the wind farm, says that most wind farms in the state are not near population centers. But this one would industrialize the southern view for much of the Tri-Cities area, say critics of the project.

It would be visible from Finley, Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, West Richland and Benton City, according to Tri-Cities area state legislators.

However, it has the support of unions whose members would construct the project. It would provide not only good-paying jobs close to home for Tri-Cities workers, but also tax revenue to Benton County.

Anyone was allowed to sign up to speak to the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council at a Feb. 1 hearing on a draft environmental study of the project proposed by Scout Clean Energy, a portfolio company of Brookfield Renewable, based in Toronto, Canada.

Limits on wind farm comments

But Washington state law limits speakers at the adjudication hearing to people who met a Jan. 31 deadline to file a written comment in support or opposition to the project.

To see the 115 comments received by the deadline, go to bit.ly/HHAdjCommentsReceived. Or you can call 360-664-1345 to determine if you previously commented and are eligible to comment again.

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Those allowed to comment at the Aug. 23 hearing are asked to comment only on issues they specifically raised previously.

They need to register to speak in advance by calling 360-664-1345 or emailing efsec@efsec.wa.gov before 5 p.m. Aug. 23.

Comments also can be sent to comments@efsec.wa.gov or P.O. Box 43172, Olympia, WA 98504-3172.

Comments from people who did not meet the Jan. 31 deadline will not be included in the adjudicative record but will be saved as a general comment.

Anyone may observe the hearing. Go to bit.ly/HHAdjAug23-PublicComment or call 564-999-2000 and use ID 6326170#.

Eight Tri-Cities, Washington, area legislators have criticized the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, for not holding hearings in the Tri-Cities, given the impacts on its residents.

The council replied that virtual hearings are a fair and cost effective way to maximize participation of officials and all residents of Washington state.

When Benton County commissioners held a 2021 hearing in the Tri-Cities before submitting the county commission’s comment to EFSEC, about 80% of speakers opposed the project.

EFSEC will recommend whether the project should be approved to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will make the final decision.

Wind turbines on hills

Scout Clean Energy has provided two alternatives for state officials to consider.

Up to 244 turbines would stand about 500 feet tall, unless Scout opts to go with fewer but taller turbines. Then there would be 150 turbines with blades extending about 670 feet high, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

The project site would be 112 square miles, although the developed area of the project would cover only about 10 square miles.

Much of the land is privately owned and used for dryland wheat farming and livestock grazing. Some of the land is managed by the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

The project also would include solar facilities and battery storage, for a maximum output of up to 1,150 megawatts, depending on the weather.

Between the proposed Horse Heaven wind farm and the nearby and smaller Nine Canyon wind farm, just over 100,000 residents of Benton County would live within six miles of a turbine, according to Tri-Cities Community Action for Responsible Environmental Stewardship, or Tri-Cities CARES.

That’s five times more than the estimated 20,000 who live within six miles of a wind farm across the rest of Washington state, according to the group’s data.

Concerns also have been raised about affects on disappearing shrub steppe habitat, birds such as ferruginous hawks and burrowing owls, and animals such as ground squirrels.

Supporters say more clean energy production is needed.

Opponents have countered that small modular nuclear reactors would leave the Tri-Cities rural landscape intact and provide the constant power required to back up intermittent wind and solar production and the short-term storage now available with batteries.

Horse Heaven union agreement

The project would contribute $250 million in local tax revenue over its 35-year operating lifespan, says the developer.

The contractor that is awarded construction of the project has pledged to use workers from Tri-Cities and Central Washington unions for carpenters, iron workers, operating engineers, electrical workers and laborers.

One document shows that the first phase of the project would have an average workforce of 299 employees, including 186 local workers and 113 nonlocal workers.

An estimated 1,000 workers would be needed throughout construction and union officials said the construction jobs would pay an average of $113,500 a year.