Although its original proposal to site 42 wind power turbines in eastern Skamania County remains on hold pending the outcome of an appeal, SDS Lumber Co. is considering expanding the scope of its renewable energy project.
SDS President Jason Spadaro said SDS may want to add more wind turbines on Whistling Ridge, north of the original proposal's boundaries. The expansion would be onto Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) property and within Klickitat County.
"We could site 30 additional turbines on DNR land if studies prove it's viable," Spadaro said.
Spadaro said no decisions have been made, and there has been no official filing.
"All we've done is apply for the right to study the property," Spadaro explained. "It is potentially a `phase two' for wind power development, but we still have to do wildlife studies, a wind study, review the topography, and then apply to lease DNR property. We still would need a DNR review, environmental review, the EIS, public meetings -- the entire public process."
DNR is now determining whether to allow SDS to study the site for possible wind power development. A DNR comment period regarding the idea closed on Feb. 10, but Spadaro said he had no idea how long the DNR decision process would take.
"DNR is considering leasing four Common School Trust parcels totaling approximately 2,560 acres for wind power development in western Klickitat County," read an excerpt from a Jan. 12 DNR document regarding the inquiry from SDS. "It is possible that these parcels may be incorporated into a larger surrounding wind power project."
"We just want to study it, and it's smart for DNR to allow it," Spadaro said. "This would diversify the revenue source for schools, diversify the tax base, and diversify energy sources."
According to Spadaro, the Whistling Ridge site is ideal for wind power development. He explained that Underwood Mountain works like a "wind dam," with the wind flowing like water around Underwood Mountain.
"It creates a funnel where the wind flows. that's why the site is so windy," Spadaro said. "The other reason why the site works so well is because there is a regional BPA transmission system coming through the area. We can connect right onto it."
Spadaro added that a larger project makes it more viable economically.
"It also gives us more flexibility. If we have more flexibility, we can use that to optimize the site and minimize impacts," Spadaro said.
Some residents have been outspoken in opposition to the siting of wind power turbines in the area. One of those alarmed about the possibility is Ruth Dye of Underwood.
"This severely impacts my life, as I live just south of where this project is planned," said Dye.
Dye pointed out that there could be serious restrictions on public access if the DNR allows wind power development in the area.
"If this project goes forward, we will be locked out of access to this public land," Dye said. "If you hunt, fish, ride a mountain bike, ride a horse, or just enjoy a walk in the woods, sorry, but you will not be allowed to use this area any more."
Dye also expressed concern about impacts on water quality.
"There are three streams in the proposed wind farm area," Dye explained. "These feed the White Salmon, Little White Salmon, and eventually the Columbia River. This watershed will be disturbed. Chemicals to control noxious weeds may be used. If you kayak, windsurf, kiteboard, fish, swim, or use downstream water, you might want to think about the impact of this wind farm on you."
According to Dye, the area in question also has been designated by DNR as a "Northern Spotted Owl Conservation Area," and pointed out that the proposed wind farm could harm owl habitat and other wildlife as well.
"The area has been determined to be a conservation area for the spotted owl, but how will they make good on the losses to the owl or the other species in this area?" Dye questioned.
Spadaro said he thought it was unfortunate that even at this informational-gathering stage, opponents have been attacking the concept.
"There are certain people on almost every project who say they are for renewable, green power, but then come out and say, `I like it, except anywhere near me,'" Spadaro said.
Spadaro debunked claims that the wind turbines would be within the White Salmon watershed.
"It's not even close to Buck Creek," he said.
The move to develop energy sources is part of a long-range strategy by SDS as it moves to diversify beyond being primarily a wood products company.
"This is another revenue source," Spadaro said. "No one knows when the demand for housing will improve, but there is always growing demand for energy. This helps us diversify."
Spadaro pointed out that the state of Washington has mandated that at least 15 percent of the energy used in the state must come from renewable sources by 2020.
"If we're going to meet renewable energy requirements, that energy is not all going to come from eastern Washington," Spadaro commented. "And the federal economic stimulus plan is based in large part on developing new renewable energy sources. That's a big deal. That demand has to be met somewhere."
Spadaro also sounded a geo-political warning about the consequences of failure to develop innovative sources of energy.
"We can either participate in it," he said, "or forget about clean energy and about independence from foreign oil."