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Bumpy Road for Permitting (Wind)

Mark Ohrenschall & Cassandra Sweet
Con.Web, August 28, 2003

Maiden Wind Farm Proposal Generates Dispute over Ground Vibrations

A dispute over ground vibrations has held up the permit application for the proposed 494-megawatt-capacity Maiden Wind Farm in south-central Washington.

The Benton County Board of Adjustment has sent the application back to the county's planning department to determine whether a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed to determine the facility's impact on nearby seismic scientific research. That decision was still pending as of late August.

Developer Washington Winds had hoped to start construction this summer on what would be, at full planned capacity, the world's largest wind farm. But the Boise-based company needs a county permit to arrange financing and a power purchase agreement, according to president Rick Koebbe.

Bonneville Power Administration has a pre-development agreement with Washington Winds and an option to buy power from up to 400 MW of Maiden capacity, but a BPA official said the agency is not in the market for new wind power.

Nevertheless, "There's plenty of market if we can get our permit," said Koebbe, citing expressed interest in wind power from several large Northwest utilities.

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Hanford Washington Seismic Researchers Oppose Maiden
Two scientific research organizations that conduct seismic experiments in Benton County, near the proposed wind farm site about 15 miles north of Prosser, have opposed the facility. Officials of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Battelle Gravitation Physics Laboratory believe construction and operation of the wind farm would create vibrations that would disrupt their research.

The Benton County Board of Adjustment will decide whether to issue a conditional-use permit to Washington Winds to build and operate the wind farm. After discussing the case at a public meeting Aug. 7, the board sent the application back to the county planning department, which will decide whether a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed to assess the facility's impact on the seismic research.

County planning director Terry Marden told Con.WEB Aug. 21 that a decision was anticipated "in the next few weeks."

In May, the board directed Washington Winds and the two research organizations to negotiate an agreement for coexistence. But negotiations failed.

The dilemma is determining whether the wind farm is--or can be--compatible with the existing occupants of the land, when both sets of projects involve the same level of investment: about $400 million, said Mike Shuttleworth, Benton County senior planner.

"We don't want to have one [project] come in and make the other one unusable," Shuttleworth told Con.WEB.

Studying Impacts
Washington Winds and BPA conducted preliminary studies on potential impacts the wind facility would have on the research, as part of an environmental impact statement. However, those studies were inconclusive, Shuttleworth said.

Washington Winds--which along with BPA has spent about $1 million on impact studies, including vibration surveys, Koebbe said--has proposed further study. However, the company is reluctant to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a study, to have LIGO and Battelle refute the results or find them unsatisfactory, particularly if the study concluded the wind farm would have little or no impact. "There is no end to the amount of study you can do to measure vibration," said Koebbe.

Even if developing the wind farm would have some effect on the research--which involves highly sensitive instruments that detect vibrations deep underground--Washington Winds has argued it is unreasonable for LIGO and Battelle to restrict development in Benton County for the sake of their research.

"It's impossible to stop development in the county, which is what they want," said Koebbe. "You can't drive a truck down the road without them being able to measure it. Their claim that we're causing vibrations is ridiculous; it makes absolutely no sense."

In a July 8 letter to the Board of Adjustment, Washington Winds contended Maiden was unlikely to disturb the seismic research any more than existing power facilities in the vicinity, including the 48-MW-capacity Nine Canyon Wind Project, the 300-MW-capacity Stateline Wind Energy Center, and the 1150-MW-capacity Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant.

Koebbe said state and federal environmental impact review processes have been completed for Maiden, with "virtually no comments on the final EIS. So we're kind of surprised this process is starting now."

LIGO and Battelle, however, are not the only organizations concerned about Maiden's potential effects. "Washington Winds has not provided adequate assurnace that its turbines would not disrupt research at labs that taxpayers have gone to considerable expense to build and operate," opined the Tri-City Herald newspaper Aug. 19. "Diversifying the nation's energy supply is an important goal, and the Mid-Columbia--home to the world's largest wind farm, not to mention a nuclear plant--certainly is doing its part. But the potential of more wind power is not worth the real cost of losing multimillion-dollar investments."

Markets for Maiden
Financing for the project and a power purchase contract are contingent on the project securing a county permit, Koebbe said.

Bonneville has an option to buy up to 400 MW of Maiden power, but BPA's Tom Osborn said that with BPA's financial predicament and lack of need for new resources, "It's not likely we'd execute the power purchase agreement or execute our option BPA right now is not in a buying mood."

Koebbe sees potential buyers among utilities seeking wind power, including Avista Utilities (see related story) and PacifiCorp. "There's a market in the Northwest," he said.

Related Pages:
Rattlesnake Windmills Decided a Decade Ago Opinion, Tri-City Herald, 8/19/3

Mark Ohrenschall & Cassandra Sweet
Bumpy Road for Permitting (Wind)
Con.Web - August 28, 2003

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