The size of Washington State’s largest wind farm just got cut by 50%


Washington State’s energy board cut the size of what would have been the state’s largest wind farm in half yesterday – here’s why.

Wind farm controversy in Washington State

The $1.7 billion, 1,150-megawatt (MW) Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center combines wind, solar, and battery storage. The original plan was for the project to feature 244 wind turbines across 24 miles of hills, and three solar farms over 5,447 acres south of the Tri-Cities, near the Oregon border.

But Horse Heaven has been stuck at the permitting stage with the seven-person Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) for the last three years. Yesterday, the EFSEC voted 5-2 in favor of a rule stating that new wind turbines could not be located within two miles of the nests of endangered ferruginous hawks.

The ferruginous hawk is classified as a Priority Species whose habitats need protection, and its nests can be found throughout the planning area. The nests often sit empty, but North America’s largest hawk is known to return to its nests after years pass.

The Audubon Society – which states on its website that it “strongly supports wind energy that is sited and operated properly to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effectively for the impacts on birds, other wildlife, and the places they need now and in the future” – supports the EFSEC’s decision.

So that decision effectively cuts the number of Horse Heaven’s wind turbines in half. Understandably, Horse Heaven’s developer, Colorado-based Scout Clean Energy, isn’t happy. But the company can appeal the decision to the EFSEC. If that fails, then the case goes to Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA), who will make the final decision.

With 3.4 GW of capacity, wind power is the second-largest contributor to the state’s renewable electricity generation, behind hydroelectricity, which supplies 60% of Washington’s total electricity net generation. In 2023, wind provided almost 8% of the state’s power.

Washington State is No 3 in the US for renewable generation overall, behind California and Texas. But natural gas is the second-largest in-state source of net generation, fueling about 18% of Washington’s total electricity generation in 2023, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

By 2045, 100% of all electricity sold to Washington State customers must come from renewable or non-emitting sources.

Electrek’s Take

The EFSEC wanting the number of turbines reduced to protect an endangered hawk seems like a fair decision. The Audubon Society is very pro-wind power – they know that wind turbines aren’t the things that kill the most birds. No 1 is cats, No 2 is windows, and ultimately it’s climate change. So its support of the Horse Heaven decision carries weight.

The Yakama Nation isn’t in favor of the wind farm, either, citing damage to the hills’ cultural and historical significance. So it will be interesting to see what Inslee ultimately decides.

Washington is legally committed to achieving net zero by 2045, so they’ll ultimately have to figure it out.

Read more: Washington passes bill to target all EV sales by 2030 – for real this time

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