Bill would pause new WA wind and solar farms, including huge Tri-Cities project

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Washington state needs to look at the imbalance in where wind farms are based in the state and where the electricity is used, says a Walla Walla lawmaker.

Republican Rep. Mark Klicker has introduced a bill in the Washington state Legislature that could delay state decisions on new or expanded alternative energy projects, including the proposed Horse Heaven Wind Farm by the Tri-Cities, while solutions to the perceived inequity are investigated.

“Too many rural counties are being forced to house alternative energy facilities, but are seeing nothing in return,” Klicker said.

House Bill 1871 would delay any state decisions to allow new wind farms and other clean energy projects until Dec. 1, 2023. It also would establish a legislative task force to investigate possible solutions to the mismatch in production location versus electricity use.

Now the state approval process considers each project in isolation rather than looking at cumulative impacts that can occur over decades, according to information from Klicker.

“It’s time to revisit the process to determine where these sites are located and who is benefiting from them,” he said.

A public hearing with remote testimony before a legislative committee is set for Tuesday, Jan. 25, after it was postponed when a Friday hearing ran long.

At the initial committee hearing on the bill Friday, Klicker noted that 80% of comments at a Benton County town hall in Kennewick in March 2021 opposed the Horse Heaven Wind Farm.

Scout Clean Energy of Colorado is proposing a wind farm on a 112-square-mile clean energy production site, with wind turbines that would stretch along 24 miles of the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.

The developed area of the project would cover about 10 square miles.

The most likely option it is considering would include 244 turbines standing almost 500 feet tall, with a second proposed option including 150 turbines standing up to 670 feet. That’s more than 60 feet taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

“Picture all of those in Elliott Bay in Seattle,” Klicker said at the Friday hearing.

Now an expanded environmental study of the Horse Heaven project is expected to be released for public comment this spring.

Then the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council would make a recommendation on whether the project should be approved for a final decision that will be made by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Wind vs. natural gas impacts

Now virtually no alternative clean energy projects, such as wind and solar, are located in the Puget Sound, Klicker said. But more than half of the state’s population lives there and has a huge appetite for clean energy, he said.

In contrast, Benton and Walla Walla counties have 3.5% of the state’s population and already provide 11% of the renewable energy in the state, according to information he provided the legislative committee.

“It’s about fairness,” he said.

This map compares where renewable energy is produced in Washington state versus population by county.
This map compares where renewable energy is produced in Washington state versus population by county.

The inequity will get much worse as the state pursues an aggressive strategy of using clean energy, the bill said.

Wind and solar projects impact communities differently than coal and natural gas plants, he said.

Thermal projects are built on 20 to 40 acres in industrial zones, while wind and solar may be built on farm land, impacting the views in scenic and natural areas that are important to residents there, he said.

The Horse Heaven Wind Farm would use 1,500 times the land of a typical coal or natural gas plant, he said.

“The viewshed, wildlife and land use patters in specific counties of the state are being permanently impacted to deliver carbon-free energy benefits to the most populous counties of the state,” says the proposed bill.

Scout Clean Energy had no comment on the proposed bill.

But its website says that the first phase of construction of Horse Heaven Hills would have an estimated $70.6 million in economic output, including 458 jobs. In the first year of full operation of both phases, $11.4 million in school-related property taxes would be generated.

House Bill 1871 would require a comprehensive performance report on the effects of the 2006 Energy Independence Act. The act requires increased use of certain renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

The study would look at the number of construction and long term jobs created in each county by the act, costs to electric utilities and impacts on tax revenue collections and the property tax base by county.

Comment on the bill

Klicker is urging Tri-Cities area residents to provide written or remote comments at the hearing of the House Environment and Energy Committee on the bill at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Go to app.leg.wa.gov/csi/House for instructions on commenting at the meeting. Select “Environment and Energy Committee” with the meeting schedule of Jan. 25 8 a.m., and then select “HB 1871 Alt. energy facility siting.”

Or go to app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/1871 to provide a written comment directly to representatives in your legislative district.

The hearing will be aired live at tvw.org.

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