A state advisory council will decide in January whether to green light a Tri-Cities-based wind farm project to the governor’s office for approval.
Scout Clean Energy’s proposal could mean more than 200 turbines along the Horse Heaven ridges in Benton County directly south of Kennewick and to the south and west of the Columbia River.
The $1.7 billion wind farm would be about four miles from Kennewick at its closest point, and in addition to the turbines, it would have solar panels and up to two battery storage facilities.
Scout Clean Energy inked a deal last year with Tri-Cities labor unions to build the project, which is estimated to create nearly 1,000 jobs for skilled trades workers during construction, according to an economic impact assessment by Tetra Tech.
The Boulder, Colorado-based Scout Clean Energy worked with 36 local landowners and farmers in Benton County to secure a 72,428-acre site south of the Tri-Cities, along the ridges above Kennewick. The company has committed to building the turbines at least half a mile from residents who chose not to work with the company or lease their land.
Not everyone supports the wind farm plan touted as helping the state meet its clean energy goals, including the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, which conducted a survey showing 78% of the more than 2,000 respondents opposing the proposal.
A nonprofit called Tri-Cities Community Action for Responsible Environmental Stewardship, or Tri-Cities CARES, formed after the project was proposed nearly three years ago. It’s run by local retirees who also oppose the project, in part due to its location.
“We’re not opposed to renewable energy but we want (it) to end up on a site that’s responsible,” said David Sharp, vice president of the group. “This project is way different than any one (project) I’ve seen, particularly in the closeness to a metro area.”
Scout Clean Energy proposed the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center as a sort of extension of the Nine Canyon wind project in southeast Kennewick, using the geographical features of the region to its advantage.
The turbines – proposed at just under 500 feet tall – would be built in an approximately 25-mile radius from west to east across the top of the Horse Heaven ridge to catch the wind which picks up before it crests over the ridge.
The wind farm would generate an estimated 1,150 megawatts of clean energy, said Dave Kobus, senior project manager for Scout Clean Energy, in an emailed statement. This would offset more than 2.2 million tons of regional greenhouse gas emissions per year.
The proposed wind farm has been a long time coming. The project application and proposal process began in 2021 with Scout Clean Energy’s official application followed by adjudications, law changes and drafted environmental impact statements.
Now, just three parties are able to intervene through the courts, if necessary: Benton County, Tri-Cities CARES and the Yakama Nation.
Rick Dunn, general manager of Benton PUD, publicly implored the governor to reject the project in his newsletter, writing last month that the project is “too close, too big and will make too little difference to justify the sacrifices.”
Tri-City CARES is trying to raise awareness about how the project will change the ridge views and aesthetic of the Tri-Cities region, potentially affecting property values of those within view of the turbines.
Additionally, the fire risk of having the project near developments is of concern to local community members. Turbines present a challenge for aircraft fighting fires, and as of Nov. 29, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has not landed on a concrete solution or recommendation to address this concern.
Scout Clean Energy will negotiate a fire safety response plan with EFSEC, the company said in a statement.
EFSEC members are working through proposed changes to the environmental impact statement, which was released on Oct. 31. The document, which is more than 2,000 pages long, shows the project’s potential impact on the environment and species living in the area. Since then, EFSEC has held meetings to refine exactly what it wants Scout Clean Energy to do to mitigate the project’s impact on the environment.
At its most recent meeting on Nov. 29, EFSEC council members discussed the project’s potential threats to local wildlife and the environment, including the habitats and nesting areas of the burrowing owl and ferruginous hawk.
Scout Clean Energy likely will have to observe space buffers if it finds the species during construction, as well as keep track of any wildlife activity and mortality of some species. EFSEC is focusing on specific mitigation measures that the company would have to observe should the project proceed.
Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council: efsec.wa.gov/energy-facilities
Scout Clean Energy: horseheavencleanenergy.com
Tri-Cities CARES: tricitiescares.org
The proposed project needs to account for both wildlife mitigation and habitat destruction, which are projected to have the most impact according to the EIS, but the document also notes fire risk and community exposures as well.
The energy produced through the Horse Heaven wind farm likely will be interconnected to the local grid but will not directly provide power to local residents of Benton County because local PUDs already have negotiated power contracts for their communities.
Scout Clean Energy is instead looking at providing power to other regional utility companies and large industrial developers that might need it.
EFSEC must make a decision on the project by Jan. 31, 2024, and it must take action by then. Its next meeting is Dec. 20.
The council has a few options when it sends its recommendation to the governor’s office: recommend the project be approved as proposed, recommend it be approved with changes, or recommend it be rejected.
Then the governor’s office will have 60 days to review the council’s proposal and take action. It can approve or deny the recommendation or ask the council to reconsider aspects of the project. Either way, the process likely will bleed into next spring.
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