Massive wind farm proposal in Washington gets new life from governor

By AP staff (AP)
OLYMPIA, Wash. May 24, 2024 5:08 p.m.
From above, a line of wind turbines dot a green hillside.

Wind turbines on the Skookumchuck Wind Farm are seen Thursday, May 18, 2023 in Chehalis, Wash.

Lindsey Wasson / AP

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday rejected a recommendation to cut a proposal for what would be the state’s largest wind farm in half, giving new life to the $1.7 billion project.

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Plans for the Horse Heaven wind farm originally included up to 222 wind turbines across 24 miles (38.6 kilometers) of hillsides in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington, plus three solar arrays covering up to 8.5 square miles (22 square kilometers).

But last month, Washington’s seven-person Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, a clearinghouse for permits required by large projects, recommended slashing the proposal in half because nests of the endangered ferruginous hawk were found in the area.

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Inslee on Thursday rejected the council’s recommendation and told the group to reconsider in hopes of expanding the project closer to its full potential. A Democrat who is not seeking reelection after three terms in office, Inslee has sought to make climate initiatives key to his legacy.

Since the wind farm project was proposed in 2021, it has pitted local opponents against the state’s ever-growing need for renewable energy. In a letter to the site evaluation council, Inslee noted that Washington’s energy demands could nearly double by 2050.

As for those in the area who don’t want to look at the turbines, he said that’s not enough of a reason to reject the project outright.

“It is clear that the turbines will be visible only from a distance and none of the turbines will loom over anyone’s home,” he wrote.

Inslee asked the council to try and offer the Yakama Nation better access to the lands — which hold cultural and historical significance — but to still restore most of the planned wind farm. Tribal communities along the West Coast have expressed frustration with what they say is a lack of consultation on such proposals that affect culturally significant waters and land.

The council has deliberated over the Horse Heaven wind farm for over three years. Now it has just three months to consider the governor’s notes and revise its original recommendation, the governor noted.

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