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News / Northwest

WA state council supports cutting half of proposed giant wind turbines near Tri-Cities

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: February 2, 2024, 7:59am

KENNEWICK — A Washington state council agreed Wednesday that close to half of the turbines proposed for the Horse Heaven wind farm just south of the Tri-Cities should not be allowed.

But it stopped short of agreeing to prohibiting all turbines, solar arrays and infrastructures east of Straub Canyon to protect tribal cultural resources, as it discussed in December. The canyon is south of Richland.

The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, Wednesday gave direction to its staff on recommendations for the Horse Heaven project, including limits on where turbines could be placed. The recommendation will be submitted to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

After documents are prepared, council members plan a final vote on whether to endorse the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center and what the restrictions should be.

The council is expected to accept public comments before it votes.

The governor then will have 60 days to approve the application with changes recommended by EFSEC or to reject it or to send the application back to the council for more work. Inslee also is expected to hear public comments before making a decision.

Scout Clean Energy is proposing up to 222 wind turbines that would be 500 feet tall or an alternate plan with fewer, taller turbines. Then there would be up to 141 turbines with blades extending about 670 feet high, which is taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

The developer earlier committed to reducing the project from the original proposal of up to 232 turbines.

The wind farm as planned would stretch over 24 miles along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Kennewick to south of Benton City. The project also would include solar arrays and battery storage.

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Scout Clean Energy said in comments submitted to EFSEC that restrictions on the project could make the project nonviable and could discourage other clean energy projects in the state.

Wind turbine impacts

About half of either of the two sizes of turbines proposed would not be allowed because they have the highest level of negative impacts, according to council information.

Scout Clean Energy has not said which of the two options it plans to pursue.

As the turbines currently are proposed to be sited, 116 of the 500-foot-tall turbines would not be allowed and 73 of the taller turbines would not be allowed. All are in general zones of high impacts where turbines could be prohibited.

Most are within two miles of a current or former Horse Heaven Hills nest of ferruginous hawks, an endangered species in Washington state.

However, the council is proposing a method by which Scout Clean Energy could challenge whether some turbines now considered to have the highest impact would actually interfere with the hawks or foraging areas.

Scout also could relocate some of the turbines proposed to be barred, but there does not appear to be space within the project boundaries for alternate locations to be found for most of the turbines.

Many of the turbines proposed to be eliminated also had other negative impacts, including being among the most visible in the southern view from the Tri-Cities along the Horse Heaven ridgeline and at the east end of the project.

The turbines determined to have the highest negative impact also could be in areas of tribal cultural resources, but information on those areas has not been made public.

The restriction also would reduce disruption to wildlife corridors across the project and reduce impacts to some recreation areas.

Tri-Cities area support, opposition

While unions have supported the project as an important source of construction jobs close to home for their workers in the Tri-Cities area, opposition has come from those who object to what they call the “industrialization” of the southern skyline in a community that prides itself on the colorful sunsets of its desert vistas.

Along with the nearby and smaller Nine Canyon wind farm, just over 100,000 people in Benton County would live within six miles of a turbine, according to Tri-Cities CARES, a group opposing the wind farm as too close to the Tri-Cities.

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.

The Tri-Cities would benefit from the project not only from construction jobs, but also tax revenue.

But Paul Krupin of Tri-Cities CARES says the electricity the proposed wind turbines produce would likely go out of state. The wind in Eastern Washington typically does not blow much when the state’s power needs peak in summer heat waves and winter cold snaps.

The turbines the council agreed should be eliminated also have some overlap with those in an area that would impose some limits in aerial firefighting in an area prone to wildfires. That has been a particular concern near Benton City.

Firefighting impacts were discussed at the Wednesday meeting, but that discussion is expected to continue, according to Tri-Cities CARES.

In the meantime, Tri-Cities Republicans state Sen. Matt Boehnke and Rep. Stephanie Barnard are sponsoring legislation that would require applications for wind farms to demonstrate approval from fire officials and height of turbines.

Scout considers project viability

Scout Clean Energy said the changes discussed by EFSEC in December — not all of which it plans to move forward with — were “an arbitrary, drastic departure from established council precedents.”

Among its concerns was that the restrictions considered for ferruginous hawk nests was far stricter than standards for the hawks in Oregon or Utah.

It pointed out that roughly 16% of Washington’s Columbia Plateau is within two miles of a current or historic hawk nest, making that land also potentially off limits for energy development under restrictions considered for the Horse Heaven wind farm.

Scout Clean Energy also had questions on eliminating development east of Straub Canyon, a restriction the council did not favor on Wednesday.

Tri-Cities CARES, the Yakama Nation and Benton County have each objected to permits for the wind farm. If the project is approved by Inslee there is a good chance that litigation will follow, Krupin said.

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