Here’s your chance to say what you think of this proposed huge Tri-Cities wind farm
The public can have its say on the draft environmental study recently completed, as Washington state considers whether to allow the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center on the ridgeline just south of the Tri-Cities.
The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, has set a virtual public hearing on its draft environmental study, called an environmental impact statement, for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1.
EFSEC will make a recommendation on whether to allow the project, with Gov. Jay Inslee making the final decision. There also is a separate adjudication process for disputed issues.
Scout Clean Energy is proposing up to 244 wind turbines that would stretch along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.
The proposed turbines would be 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.
The project also would include solar facilities and battery storage, for a maximum output of up to 1,150 megawatts, depending on the weather.
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 Tri-Cities union trades stand in strong support of the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center,” said Francisco Elguezabel, business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 348, as the draft study was released in December.
The contractor that is awarded construction of the project will be required to use workers from Tri-Cities and Central Washington unions for carpenters, iron workers, operating engineers, electrical workers and laborers.
The project also would contribute $250 million in local tax revenue over its 35-year operating lifespan, says the developer.
“The Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center will revolutionize the energy landscape in Eastern Washington, supporting the statewide transition to clean energy,” said Dave Kobus, senior project manager at Scout Clean Energy.
The application for the wind farm was filed by Horse Heaven Wind Farm LLC, which is indirectly owned by Scout Clean Energy, a portfolio company of Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners.
How to attend WA meeting
Those wishing to speak at the virtual public meeting starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday are required to sign up in advance.
They should notify EFSEC by phone at 360-664-1345 or email at email@example.com before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Comments should focus on the methodology and adequacy of the draft environmental study and other documents, any additional information and mitigation measures, according to EFSEC.
Time will be limited, but speakers can submit additional comments in writing.
To watch the meeting online, go to bit.ly/3JjvAGa or access the link at efsec.wa.gov/energy-facilities/horse-heaven-wind-project by looking for the public comment notice on the right side of the screen under “Recent Activity.”
The Benton County Commission will stream the meeting at the Benton County Administration Building’s 3rd Floor Commissioners’ Hearing Room at 7122 W. Okanogan Place. Those attending the state meeting there will still need to sign up with EFSEC in advance if they want to comment during the meeting.
People can also listen to the meeting and provide comment by phone. Call into the meeting at 253-372-2181 and provide conference ID 464546607#.
You don’t have to attend the meeting to comment on the draft environmental impact statement for the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center.
However, written comments must be received by EFSEC no later than Wednesday, Feb. 1.
To submit a comment, go to comments.efsec.wa.gov and select “Horse Heaven Draft EIS comments.”
Comments also may be mailed to Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, 621 Woodland Square Loop SE, Lacey, WA 98504-3172.
Wind farm concerns
While unions strongly support the proposed clean energy development, others in the Tri-Cities are concerned about the impact to skyline views, the loss of agriculture land and the impact on wildlife.
A policy paper released Friday by the Benton PUD questioned the value of the proposed wind farm “in the iconic Horse Heaven Hills” compared to those in other Northwest areas that have more wind blowing when electricity is needed most.
Eastern Washington has many winter days of high-pressure inversions resulting in cold and windless days.
Wind farms in Washington are more productive in the summer, but that coincides with times that hydropower is at maximum levels and not as much help is needed from other generating technologies, the PUD policy paper said.
It referenced an analysis by the Western Resource Adequacy Program that concluded that Washington based wind power provides the lowest effective capacity in the winter compared to wind power from surrounding regions.
“From a utility planning perspective, it’s clear Washington based wind farms should be low on the list of alternatives if you are trying to balance CO2 emission reductions, grid reliability and land-use impacts in the most cost-effective manner possible,” the paper said.
Three Tri-Cities residents who have analyzed the project say that the turbines will be visible, including their blinking red lights at night, from many areas of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco.
The draft study is lacking, including a failure to analyze the proposed wind project’s impact on the people who would live near it, said Paul Krupin of Kennewick, a scientist and attorney, and Tri-Cities CARES members Dave Sharp, a retired manager of Wyoming wind farms, and Pam Minelli, a Tri-Cities area homeowner.
When the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce previously posted a survey, 78% of respondents said the Horse Heaven wind farm was not worth the personal, environmental and economic impacts it would have on the Tri-Cities.
“Tri-Citians are becoming more frustrated and discouraged,” said Stephanie Barnard, speaking on behalf of the chamber before she was elected to the Washington state Legislature. “They feel they have sacrificed so much already of our scenic hillsides, canyons and desert vistas.”
The draft environmental study concluded that there are ways to mitigate the visual impact of the project.
It proposes requiring that turbines be more than a half mile from homes, that structures be built as far from roads as possible and that flickering shadows from turning blades should be avoided if possible at nearby homes.
The draft environmental study also covers other impacts of the proposed wind and solar project, including to wildlife.
Wind farm and wildlife
The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife raised concerns about ferruginous hawks and other wildlife in comments that the agency submitted earlier to EFSEC.
Although most of the land for the proposed wind farm is on dryland wheat fields, many of the turbines, transmission lines and solar arrays are close to or stretch across draws and canyons with shrub steppe and grassland habitats, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
In addition, the ridgeline of the Horse Heaven Hills is an important foraging area for raptors, it said.
The Horse Heaven ridgeline is among the last remaining functional and uninterrupted shrub-steppe and natural grasslands in Benton County and is an important foraging area for raptors, it said.
“Maintaining sufficient foraging area to support successful territories and nesting for ferruginous hawks and other raptors that use thermals and air currents associated with the Horse Heaven Hills seems particularly challenging with current proposed structure orientation,” Washington state Fish and Wildlife said in its comments about the Horse Heaven project.
Ferruginous hawks are an endangered species in Washington state.