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Wind Farm Project 'Kind of in Limbo' at Clallam PUD

by Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News, May 18, 2010

PORT ANGELES -- A Clallam County Public Utility District plan to join the Radar Ridge wind farm project in Pacific County is losing power as permit costs escalate.

General Manager Doug Nass told the three PUD commissioners Monday that further involvement in the project is no guarantee.

"The project is kind of in limbo right now," he said.

Clallam County PUD is a 15-percent partner in the renewable energy project near Naselle.

Energy Northwest, a nonprofit operating agency, is leading the project with four partners -- the Clallam, Grays Harbor, Pacific and Mason counties' PUDs.

Regulatory approval

Grays Harbor PUD, a 49-percent partner in the $100 million project, may walk away from Radar Ridge because of its concerns about regulatory approval.

Rick Lovely, Grays Harbor PUD general manager, called Nass recently to share his frustrations.

"They've come to a conclusion that there's not a high level of confidence that they can do it in a timeline and that they can get the permits at the end," Nass said.

"It's almost like they feel like we need to have a guarantee that it's going to happen, which I don't think they'll ever get -- not from DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and from Fish and Wildlife.

"That's a risk that we are taking that we were aware of, which made us think twice about it and very concerned about it. But everybody else was going forward with it."

Originally estimated at $3 million, pre-construction costs for the wind farm have soared to $5.2 million.

Most of the money is being spent on studies and surveys to find out how the 32 turbines will affect the endangered marbled murrelet, a small seabird. Environmental groups are concerned that the 262-foot-tall turbines will kill too many birds.

Public utilities like the Clallam PUD are required to obtain more renewable energy this decade.

By 2012, the PUD must supply 3 percent of its demand with renewable energy. That number jumps to 9 percent in 2015 and to 15 percent by 2020.

Commissioner Hugh Haffner suggested that Energy Northwest guarantee the approval of the permit before more money is spent.

"That's kind of where it ended up," said Nass, who took part in a conference call of the stakeholders Wednesday.

Another meeting

Energy Northwest is supposed to be scheduling another meeting to give the districts a better sense of where it's going.

"Basically at the end of that meeting, we're supposed to get a better feeling that we'll get the permit," Nass said.

"We supposed to get a better understanding of where the project is going and if we can get these commitments guarantees. Right now, Grays Harbor doesn't look like they're going forward, and as you know they are a 49-percent in the project."

"We've got to get some good news about Radar Ridge," Commissioner Will Purser added.

A memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Energy Northwest did not guarantee a timeline for the permit, which came as surprise to Grays Harbor PUD officials.

Lovely was quoted in The Daily World of Aberdeen on May 11 as saying participation in the wind farm has a "big question mark" hanging over it.

Grays Harbor PUD has already spent $845,250 in pre-construction costs, and Energy Northwest is asking for an additional $1.4 million.

$260,000 from Clallam

To date, the Clallam County PUD has spent an estimated $260,000 on the project, PUD spokesman Jeff Beaman said.

"Grays Harbor is saying that there are other technologies out there," Nass said.

"There are other renewables, and maybe this isn't the one they should pursue further."

Up to 36 wind turbines would go on land owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The statewide ballot initiative that set the renewable energy requirements exclude hydropower, which fuels 60 percent of the state.

The Clallam County PUD received $19.4 million in low-interest bonds for the 82-megawatt project last November. The bonds came from the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Rob Ollikainen
Wind Farm Project 'Kind of in Limbo' at Clallam PUD
Peninsula Daily News, May 18, 2010

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