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Benton County wind farm proposal slated for state energy siting council review

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(The Center Square) – A proposed wind turbine farm in Benton County that would be the state’s largest if ultimately permitted is scheduled for an updated review next week by the Washington Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council.

In February 2021, EPSEC received a site certification application from Horse Heaven Wind Farm LLC to construct a renewable energy generation facility across thousands of acres of leased land near the Tri-Cities. As proposed, the facility would generate between 600 and 1,100 megawatts of electricity from over 200 wind turbines and extensive solar panel arrays, coupled with two battery energy storage facilities. If built, construction would be phased and operating life of the facility is expected to be at least 30 years.

Scout Clean Energy of Boulder, Colorado, is proposing the project at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. In addition to producing renewable energy, the company has said the project would provide hundreds of temporary construction jobs and upwards of a dozen permanent jobs, along with bolstering property tax revenues for local governments.

Area residents and tribes have voiced concerns about the number and size of the proposed turbine units, with blade tips that could range upward of 500 feet. Some critics say the wind farm could stretch over 20 miles, blighting views of the south and western skyline from the nearby Tri-Cities, Benton City, and other communities.

There have also been complaints from some residents and area tribes over potential threats from spinning blades to wildlife including birds and bats, taking dryland wheat ground out of production, disturbance of Native Americans’ historic and cultural resources, and interference with low-flying aircraft combating wildfires that are frequent in the area.

Last week, two state lawmakers from the Tri-Cities proposed legislation that would require permitting agencies to consider whether turbine height creates significant obstacles for aerial firefighters.

The EPSEC panel is scheduled to convene on Wednesday, Jan. 24, for a virtual meeting at 1:30 p.m. Along with other agenda items, the council is slated to make a recommendation to staff regarding the Horse Heaven Wind Farm project.

The council is responsible for evaluating applications for environmental and socio-economic impacts before making recommendations to the governor’s office for approval, denial, or modification of a project. Alternative energy electrical generation facilities subject to EPSEC evaluation can include wind, solar, geothermal, landfill gas, wave/tidal action, or biomass facilities.

Gov. Jay Inslee has signaled strong support for alternative energy sources, which could be tempered by the impacts they pose at particular site locations.

Also listed on next week’s council agenda are operational and project updates for over a dozen wind, solar, and other generation facilities across Washington state.

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