Clallam PUD Loses $300,000 in
by Rob Ollikainen
PORT ANGELES -- Energy Northwest, the Clallam County Public Utility District and three other public utilities have pulled the pulled the plug on the Radar Ridge wind power project in Southwest Washington over new restrictions to protect threatened seabirds.
More than $4 million was spent on planning and permitting for the 32-turbine wind farm in Pacific County since 2007.
The Clallam County PUD's $300,000 share of the investment is a loss, utility spokesman Michael Howe said.
The PUDs in Clallam, Pacific, Grays Harbor and Mason counties joined Energy Northwest in a unanimous vote Nov. 10 to terminate the project because of conditions set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The central issue was habitat for marbled murrelets, a bird listed as threatened in 1992 under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Richland-based Energy Northwest, which footed half the bill, announced the decision at a board meeting in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday.
"A tremendous amount of work has been poured into this project by the participants and Energy Northwest to make this a viable, beneficial energy resource for our members," Energy Northwest Vice President Jack Baker said.
"We are disappointed development could not continue, but the permitting framework U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed on us going forward and schedule uncertainty was untenable."
Clallam County PUD got involved in Radar Ridge because of the renewable-energy requirements of the Washington Energy Independence Act.
The law, which state voters approved by 52 percent in 2006 as Initiative 937, requires utilities the size of the Clallam County PUD to obtain 3 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2012.
That requirement jumps to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent by 2020.
Clallam County PUD gets its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration and the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Hydropower is not considered renewable under Initiative 937.
"With the I-937 requirements, this project was a great opportunity for Clallam PUD," said Clallam County PUD General Manager Doug Nass.
"Unfortunately, we have learned that even when you try to do the right thing, there will be obstructionist groups out there."
Environmental groups, including the Seattle Audubon Society, opposed the project from the start because the area is environmentally sensitive.
Seattle Audobon said it supports projects to reduce climate change, but the harm to marbled murrelets outweighed the benefits of reduced carbon output.
"There are significantly better locations to site renewable-energy projects than Radar Ridge," said Shawn Cantrell, executive director of Seattle Audobon, in a news release.
Clallam County PUD officials said extensive, peer-reviewed studies found no murrelets nesting in the area, with few flying through the area.
Energy Northwest sought an incidental take permit because the studies showed one bird could be harmed every two years.
"It's unfortunate that those same groups that advocate for renewable-energy mandates also oppose the development of projects such as this," Nass said in a statement.
Even if the project came to fruition, Nass said, it may have hit ratepayers in the wallet because of the economy and the high cost of wind power.
"As the region sees some utilities increasing rates as much as 17 percent, in part due to the high cost of wind power, this may ultimately be a positive for our customers," Nass said.
In August, the three Clallam County PUD commissioners signed a letter supporting pending legislation that would eliminate the requirement for utilities to purchase renewable energy they don't need.
Radar Ridge -- which would have generated about 80 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 18,000 homes -- would have been the first large wind farm in Western Washington.
The project was halted after Fish and Wildlife presented its draft National Environmental Policy Act alternative, which called for shutting down the turbines during daylight hours for more than six months out of the year and creating a $10 million mitigation fund not tied to Radar Ridge.
The document granted a five-year permit instead of the standard 30 years and required expensive bird-monitoring technology, Howe said.
"U.S. Fish and Wildlife had stated up front obtaining the permits would not be easy, quick or cheap," Baker said.
"They were right. However, we expected the conditions for the permit to be reasonable and based on the science. They were not."
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