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Third Major Wind Farm Proposed
for Central Washington

Mark Ohrenschall
Con.Web, July 16, 2003

The proposed Wild Horse Wind Power Project would be located in the distant vicinity shown here. (Photo by Mark Ohrenschall) A third major wind farm is proposed for central Washington’s Kittitas County, raising the county’s announced potential wind capacity to more than 525 megawatts.

Zilkha Renewable Energy on July 1 unveiled plans for a 165-MW-capacity wind project about 13 miles east of Ellensburg, the county seat. The Texas-based firm also is developing the proposed (and controversial) 181.5-MW-capacity Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project some 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg, close to yet another prospective local wind farm, a 180-MW-capacity venture planned by enXco.

Zilkha’s newest proposal, the Wild Horse Wind Power Project, reflects "strong utility interest being expressed right now in wind power," project development manager Chris Taylor told Con.WEB. He specifically mentioned Puget Sound Energy, Avista Utilities and PacifiCorp as examples. "There’s a lot of demand out there, more than just our Kittitas Valley project can meet."

Taylor said Zilkha will seek approval for Wild Horse from the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, as the company has for its other project in the wind-raked county stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River. EFSEC, as part of its review of Zilkha’s Kittitas Valley project, recently directed the firm to pursue compliance with Kittitas County wind farm regulations. EnXco’s project, known as Desert Claim, is exclusively within the county’s permitting process.

A leading opponent of Zilkha’s proposed Kittitas Valley project, Geoff Saunders of Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, called the remote Wild Horse site "far more appropriate" for wind development. He urged the company to withdraw its Kittitas Valley proposal and seek county approval for Wild Horse. Taylor said Zilkha will proceed with both ventures.

Wild Horse Wind Power Project
Wild Horse Wind Power Project would be located on 5,000 acres sloping down from Whiskey Dick Mountain, about 10 miles northeast of Kittitas. The site is part of the 25,000-acre Parke Creek Ranch, which primarily hosts livestock grazing, according to Zilkha officials.

The location is well-known among wind developers, Taylor said. Al Davies of Caurus Power negotiated property rights with the single landowner in 2001, and subsequently approached several wind developers. "Ultimately, we decided to work together on this," he said.

Zilkha’s announcement stems from this new site access as well as expanding utility attention to wind, as shown by least-cost plans from utilities including Puget, Avista and PacifiCorp, he said. Zilkha expects to bid Kittitas County wind power in response to utility solicitations. Public-power utilities are another potential market.

"We think there’s more than enough demand out there for both of these projects," he said. "We feel well-positioned. We think these are two of the best wind power sites in the Northwest, in terms of [wind] resource and transmission."

The Wild Horse and Kittitas Valley sites have "comparable" winds blowing across them on an annual basis, he said, although Wild Horse is slightly higher in elevation and receives more winter storm-driven winds. "Our two sites tap the wind as it sweeps through the county," said Taylor in a news release. "We catch it literally coming and going."

Two sets of Bonneville Power Administration high-voltage transmission lines run nearby, as do smaller Puget wires.

Although the project is announced at 165-MW capacity from about 100 turbines, Taylor described those numbers as "approximate" and subject to change based on power market prices and wind technology advances, among other factors.

He called the 5,000-acre location "very remote," with no structures for several miles. Initial investigations have revealed no major permitting issues regarding birds and other animals, plants or cultural resources, he said.

Zilkha wants to apply for project approval to EFSEC instead of Kittitas County for the "exact same reasons" the company went to the Council with its Kittitas Valley project, he said. "It’s a rigorous process to get all the issues out on the table and address them. Second of all, it is the appeal track issue. If there were an appeal, and we don’t expect one, it would be expedited … We’re wanting to be able to move forward on a timely fashion." Zilkha, which has already requested of EFSEC a potential site study for Wild Horse , expects to complete the wind farm by year-end 2005 at a projected cost exceeding $175 million.

Location Issues
This location is "far more appropriate" than northwest of Ellensburg, as "there are no scenic issues, no environmental issues (to our knowledge), and it would not impact landowners or tourism," Saunders told Con.WEB in an e-mail.

"The wise strategy for Zilkha would now be to withdraw its request with EFSEC for the [Kittitas Valley] project and to apply to the county for a permit for the Whiskey Dick Mountain project," he wrote.

Taylor affirmed Zilkha’s intentions to develop both proposed wind farms. Wild Horse’s only real effect on Kittitas Valley will be to expand cumulative impacts explored in environmental impact statements, he said.

Wind Projects Reviews
Zilkha’s 181.5-MW-capacity Kittitas Valley project remains under review by EFSEC, but a recent twist has sent it to the county.

EFSEC in early May determined the proposal didn’t comply with Kittitas County regulations for wind farms, and it directed Zilkha "to make the necessary application for change in, or permission under, the Kittitas County land use plans or zoning ordinances, and make all reasonable efforts to resolve the noncompliance," according to the May 7 order.

This conforms to EFSEC rules for proposed energy projects that are found not to meet local standards, said EFSEC manager Allen Fiksdal. He noted Zilkha acknowledged its non-compliance with the county’s new siting rules for wind farms, adopted in December.

Accordingly, Zilkha has applied to Kittitas County for a development agreement, development permit, a rezoning and a comprehensive plan amendment, all conditioned on EFSEC approval.

EFSEC, meanwhile, has extended to Sept. 1 Zilkha’s deadline for reporting on its efforts to resolve zoning and land-use issues with the county. The company can ask EFSEC to supersede local regulations, Fiksdal said.

EFSEC plans to finish a draft environmental impact statement by late August or early September, Fiksdal said. "There’s some significant issues that need to be addressed," including prospective impacts on views, birds and animal migration. These and other topics were raised at a March 12 meeting in Ellensburg (see Con.WEB, March 27, 2003, for a column on Kittitas County wind farms ).

Kittitas County will likely schedule a public hearing on the Zilkha application after the draft EIS is finished, county planner Clay White told Con.WEB. He said he anticipates the board of commissioners will make a decision by January, but it could be later. The enXco project is tracking a similar timetable through the county’s process, White said.

The EIS drafting could take longer to incorporate cumulative impacts from Zilkha’s second proposed project, according to Fiksdal. EFSEC plans to render a decision on the Kittitas Valley project by February, he said, after which Gov. Gary Locke will have 60 days to approve or deny the application, or send it back to the council for reconsideration

Mark Ohrenschall
Third Major Wind Farm Proposed for Central Washington
Con.Web - July 16, 2003

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