The project that would be Skamania County’s first wind power farm got the green light Monday from the Governor’s Office but the developers are unsure when, or if, they will proceed with construction.
Jason Spadaro, president of Whistling Ridge Energy Partners, LLC, said Monday that the 75-megawatt Whistling Ridge Energy Project is not being abandoned, “but we will need a better environment for renewable energy development in the region.”
Gov. Christine Gregoire approved the Site Certification Agreement for the Whistling Ridge Energy Project per the unanimous recommendation of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC): a modified project with 35 wind turbines, to be sited on commercial timber land in southeastern Skamania County.
“This decision wasn’t reached lightly,” Gregoire said in a public statement issued by her office. “I weighed the hundreds of public comments collected by EFSEC. I examined the results of various environmental and land use reviews. And I considered the expert testimony gathered by EFSEC on the impact of new wind turbines. A modified project with 35 wind turbines would help meet our need for clean energy and bring needed jobs and revenue to Skamania County, while preserving the esthetic and recreational benefits of the Gorge. This decision is a balanced approach, and one that serves all citizens of the state.”
Whistling Ridge Energy Partners said they appreciated the Governor’s decision in their favor, but were disappointed she did not go beyond the EFSEC’s recomm-endation.
“We are thankful that she has recognized the fact that this project is entirely outside of the (Columbia River Gorge) National Scenic Area, and the need for economic development in Skamania County,” Spadaro said. “However, the EFSEC recommendation, and the Governor’s approval, have still reduced the project size and hampered its economics. Coupled with a poor economic environment, weak current demand for energy, and uncertainty over federal tax incentives, the project’s ability to move forward at the current time is uncertain.”
He added, “We continue to emphasize that EFSEC’s environmental impact statement found no negative environmental impacts from the project, only asthetic ones, to which we strenuously object.”
Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a Portland, Ore.-based National Scenic Area watchdog group, have fought the project from its inception in 2007 because they say project turbines “would be visible for many miles within the National Scenic Area” and “highly visible from multiple vantage points, such as the city of White Salmon.”
In a news release issued Monday afternoon, the Friends stated they are considering a legal challenge to the Governor’ approval of the project. Such a challenge would have to be filed in Thurston County Superior Court within 30 days of March 5. In any event, the Friends “are vowing to press on.”
“Friends of the Columbia Gorge supports responsible development of renewable energy sources, but the Whistling Ridge proposal is not responsible,” said Kevin Gorman, executive director for the Friends. “This project, even scaled back to 35 turbines, is not worth sacrificing the unique scenic beauty and wildlife of the Columbia River Gorge.”
Nathan Baker, staff attorney for the Friends, said Gov. Gregoire’s decision is “vulnerable to legal challenge” because Skamania County did not complete the rezoning of the project site to allow for wind energy development, and EFSEC “failed to acknowledge these violations.”