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PUD Won't Budge on Wind Farm

by Staff
The Daily World, May 25, 2010

The Grays Harbor PUD won't budge from its position to stop funding further environmental tests or any other costs for the proposed Radar Ridge wind power project in Pacific County, and commissioners Monday asked staff to convey that message to the remaining participants.

"I'm not sure expending additional funds will guarantee the project will be any more successful than it is now," Commissioner Truman Seely said. "From my perspective, it is very difficult to recommend spending any more money."

PUD manager Rick Lovely, Commissioner Tom Casey and staff attorney Rick Pitt will deliver that message to a meeting on the future of Radar Ridge this afternoon in Shelton. In addition, they will tell the remaining project participants that Grays Harbor, with a 49 percent share of the investment, will not authorize even a scaled-back request from developer Energy Northwest.

"We have taken a position of not putting any more money into this or continuing with any of the consultant tasks or the tasks to get permits," Lovely said during Monday's commission meeting.

The meeting in Shelton is with a committee involving Energy Northwest along with representatives from the other PUDs - Clallam County, Mason County No. 3, and Pacific County - that have been funding pre-construction costs for the past three years until Grays Harbor last week decided it would pay no more.

Since that decision, Lovely said, the other participants have been "in a mad scramble to keep the project moving."

Lovely described a new scaled-back request that would fund tests on a radar warning system and a "peer review" that might help satisfy environmental concerns about seabirds flying into the large turbines planned for the site near Naselle.

But that price tag -- a total cost of about $256,000 with Grays Harbor's share pegged at $94,000, compared to an earlier request for an additional $1.14 million for a full environmental impact statement -- also didn't sway Grays Harbor PUD commissioners.

"The biggest question for (Tuesday's meeting) is why?" Casey asked. "Why would you do any more? There's not chance to recover what you've already taken."

Grays Harbor PUD already has invested about $845,000 in the project's permitting process, which must be completed by December 2011 to move forward with financing. The participants have been awarded $122 million in federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, but those must be sold by 2013, and the project needs to pass environmental review by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and meet state requirements for the lease on Department of Natural Resources land.

The Seattle Audubon society has objected to the site during the permitting process because it is on public land near nesting areas for an endangered species of fast-moving seabirds, the marbled murrelet. The birds nest high in old-growth forest and the Audubon Society believes the DNR property should be preserved to help build better murrelet habitat.

The hope is that a radar warning system, known as Merlin, can be tested at the site to see if it can keep the murrelets from flying into the 32 turbines, which stand on towers approximately 262 feet high.

The Merlin is operating at a limited number of other wind farm sites in several different countries, including the United States, and has been used to gather data on birds for previous Fish & Wildlife Service reviews of similar projects.

It can act as a "real-time early warning, monitoring and risk mitigation system providing advance warning to the wind farm operators of approaching birds," according to manufacturer DeTect Inc. It can also be configured to automatically activate at operating wind farms, "including idling of select or all turbines until risk conditions abate."

But Grays Harbor officials are skeptical the system would work on the birds, which fly fast and high, or that it would be adequate enough to guarantee the site would get permits in time to satisfy all the other requirements for the bonds and development.

"I don't have any idea of the prospects for success," Casey said. "I don't think anybody has the answers to these questions."

Lovely conceded that Grays Harbor's position could spell doom for the project. He said he had been in touch with the other participants and the outlook doesn't look promising.

"They believe rather strongly that if Grays Harbor ceases to provide additional funds, nobody else will pick up the cost," Lovely said. "The project in essence would cease."

Casey said it was his hope that Grays Harbor's decision to stop funding would send a message about the fate of the project and the need for a better process in getting similar projects through the permitting phase of development.

"This is likely to create some interest in the policy makers and politicians," he said. "This is going to get some attention."

PUD Won't Budge on Wind Farm
The Daily World, May 25, 2010

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