Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Klickitat County's Energy Overlay Zone is proving to be even more of a lure for wind power companies than anticipated. To keep up with the interest, county officials are preparing to review the process with an eye to possibly allowing more turbines to be sited around the county.
"As part of the original agreement, when we hit 1,000 megawatts (of energy production capability), we agreed to take another look at the EIS," explained Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter. "We're going to be bumping up against that ceiling here soon."
Sauter pointed out that the growth in wind energy production and the interest from energy companies was stronger than anticipated.
"A thousand megawatts seemed like way out there three or four years ago," he said. "I don't know if we anticipated this rapid growth."
Sauter said the county already has permits that would push the total production to about 1,200 megawatts once construction is complete and the new wind turbines are operating.
One of the issues the county wants to look at in considering boosting the overall energy output from wind turbines is to review scientific data on the impacts of the turbines' rotating blades on birds.
"There is new data on bird strikes and bird mortality," Sauter said. "We would incorporate that into the revision. We want to make sure we're using the best science available."
The EOZ, approved by the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners in 2004, allows energy companies to bypass some of the regulatory hurdles to setting up power generation facilities.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal in August 2004, the program was described as follows:
"The Energy Overlay is a proposal to encourage optimal energy project siting with the county," read an excerpt. "The FEIS analyzes the impacts of an overlay in which certain energy projects (if appropriately mitigated) would be permitted outright under county zoning."
The lightened regulatory load is appealing to energy companies, which are able to streamline the process, thus cutting the time involved in getting energy production under way.
According to Sauter, the new proposals are generally in the eastern part of the county.
"They are moving in closer to Goldendale. There are a couple proposals on both sides of Highway 97 in the Centerville area," Sauter said. "Mostly they are in the Bickleton-Alderdale area, that part of the world."
Sauter said most of the proposed projects are in the 100 MW-200 MW range, which would translate to about 50-100 wind turbines. Each turbine can produce approximately two megawatts of energy.
"It's great for the tax base," Sauter said. "We're exporting a product. We're exporting power and importing money. We'll double the assessed value of the county in the next three years."
Sauter said he expected the preparation of the supplemental EIS to go fairly swiftly.
"We really haven't had any problems out there," he said. "We just need to revisit this. We hope to have this wrapped up in the next six months or so."