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A proposed $1.7 billion wind and solar project generates hopes and fears in Washington state

Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Scout Clean Energy officials note that the company's own surveys — conducted late last year by EMC Research — indicated 54% of Benton County respondents either somewhat or strongly supported the project.

They say the closest turbines to the Tri-Cities will be 4 miles from the nearest suburban development.

"There has been a lot of misinformation about our project, and wind energy in general," Smith said. "It has been a battle through the pandemic to get out and talk to the community about this."

Scout's relationship with local governments in the Tri-Cities has been further strained by the company's decision to bypass the Benton County permitting process and instead go through a state process. The state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council makes a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee about whether to approve the project, and the governor then gets the final say.

The council review is likely to take a year or longer. An initial online public meeting in March was somewhat chaotic as some participants kept open microphones, and repeatedly made off-the-cuff comments.

During the hearing, union members who would help build the project were among those who testified in favor.

 

Those who spoke in opposition included Benton County Commissioner Will McKay, who called it "inconsistent with preserving the natural setting views and rich history of Benton County and the greater Tri-Cities area." He was allowed a brief two-minute time slot to speak, the same as more than 60 other members of the public signed up to voice their views. When he tried to go longer, he was cut off in midsentence.

"OK, I've muted Commissioner McKay's microphone. His comment time is over," declared state Administrative Law Judge Adam Torem, who struggled to keep order.

New generation of turbines

Scout is willing to invest $1.7 billion in this project due to the economic potential of the winds that blow across the hills. Driven by storms, they funnel along the Columbia River — and then are intensified as they reach the ridgelines. Unlike those farther west in the Columbia River Gorge, they are strongest in the winter when Northwest utilities have the biggest need for power.

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