Officials Point to Gulf
by Angelo Bruscas
NASELLE -- The current Gulf Coast environmental crises should serve as a wake-up call to push forward with alternative energy projects like the proposed Radar Ridge wind farm.
That theme from Radar Ridge proponents emerged Wednesday night at the second of two public meetings on an environmental impact statement for the 32-turbine, 82-megawatt project proposed by Energy Northwest and a consortium of Public Utility Districts that includes the Grays Harbor PUD.
"The oil leaking into the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in our history, and the president's speech from the Oval Office the other night mentioned wind energy," said state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. "We have to break our addiction to fossil fuels. And here we are with a great project."
But Hatfield and others who support the Radar Ridge site fear the project could be bogged down in the environmental review process outlined at the meeting.
"It has to be approved by two federal agencies, but what does that mean for assisting in wind energy development?" Hatfield asked. "At the very least it might mean getting out of the way and possibly helping speed things up."
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has begun a 30-day scoping process that looks primarily at how the project would affect marbled murrelets, a threatened seabird species that nests in old-growth forest adjacent to the proposed site, which is managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. The property near the Pacific County town of Naselle once housed an old Cold War era radar installation and a gravel quarry, and uses have included logging and a site for telecommunications equipment.
Fish & Wildlife officials told about 30 people at the Naselle High School auditorium that they expect to have a draft environmental impact statement completed by next March, followed by a permit decision by December 2011. The Bonneville Power Administration and the DNR also would have to sign off on the project.
"I wish we had started this process a year and a half ago," said state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen. "We'd be a lot further along and we would have some answers. But we are where we are, and it's still a viable project. From what I've heard about the history of the murrelet, it should not be an impediment to siting the project."
It has, however, already been an impediment to the Grays Harbor PUD commission, which has decided to stop paying for future pre-construction costs and asked Energy Northwest to find another partner to assume its 49 percent share of the project, which also includes funding from PUDs in Pacific, Clallam and Mason counties.
Grays Harbor PUD officials were at both meetings this week. The first was held in Lacey on Tuesday, and it included members of several environmental groups that are opposed to the site because of its proximity to murrelet habitat.
But an alternative position was presented at the Naselle meeting by the Discovery Coast Audubon Society of the Long Beach area, which is supporting the project while other Audubon Society chapters have opposed it.
Discovery Coast "regards the Radar Wind Project as an important clean energy development. It is important for climate change, important for keeping power rates low and important for the local economy," wrote Patricia Cruse, president of the lone Audubon Society chapter that believes the murrelets should not be an issue.
Discovery Coast's assessment, which will be included in the public comment collected during the process, concludes that few birds fly over the site and that "old-growth trees are not in the vicinity of the project. Surveys prove that marbled murrelets will not be rendered extinct or threatened toward that end."
The meetings likely will not help ease Grays Harbor PUD's concerns that the environmental process will be too costly and too long to make it financially feasible, said PUD Manager Rick Lovely, who added: "But I've been surprised by our commissioners before."
In a 2-1 vote June 1, the commission agreed to pay an additional $125,000 to keep the environmental process moving forward through July 31 while also asking Energy Northwest to find a new partner, fearing that the project would not be permitted in time to meet several approaching leasing and funding deadlines.
After three years of paying for an environmental assessment of the project, the more time-consuming environmental impact statement process could double planning costs to over $5 million. All elements of the project must be approved by January 2013 to qualify for $122 million in federal low-interest clean energy bonds .
State Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said his fear is that delays on the Radar Ridge project could doom other wind energy proposals in Western Washington. Radar Ridge would be the first significant project of its type west of the Cascades.
"There are three or four other projects proposed up the coast," he said. "If it's not this one, then the next one will have it's problems, too. No matter what you do, there will be something."
Hatfield and the other legislators plan to make comments as part of the scoping process. They also are lobbying the state's two U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, and the rest of the state's Congressional delegation to move the process along, hoping to keep the now-fragile group of financial backers from pulling out.
"We have to get this moving forward, which might make Grays Harbor take another look, too," Hatfield said.
The Fish & Wildlife Service will continue to accept public comment on the Radar Ridge environmental impact process through June 28. Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the project is available at www.fws.gov/wafwo.
Clallam Among PUDs Reviewing Roles in Costly Wind Project by Rob Ollikainen, Peninsula Daily News, 5/21/10
Grays Harbor PUD Hopes to Sell Interest in Radar Ridge Wind Project by David Haviland, KBKW, 5/19/10
Radar Ridge: PUD Balks by Angelo Bruscas, The Daily World, 5/18/10
Wind Farm Project 'Kind of in Limbo' at Clallam PUD by Rob Ollikainen, Peninsula Daily News, 5/18/10
"Big Question Mark" on Wind Project by Steven Friederich, The Daily World, 5/11/10
PUD Gets Cold Feet Over 82MW Wind Farm in Washington State by James Cartledge, Brighter Energy, 5/13/10
PUDs Worry Bird Will Stop Wind Farm in Tracks by Don Jenkins, The Daily News, 5/13/10
Grays Harbor PUD Uncertain about Wind Farm by Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/12/10
Grays Harbor PUD Stalls on Radar Ridge Wind Project Price Increases by David Haviland, KBKW, 5/11/10
Decisions Coming on Wind Farm Project by Mike Marsh, The Daily World, 5/8/10
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