Washington wind farm project size reduced due to firefighting and wildlife concerns

February 15, 2024

Firefighting challenges contribute to downsizing of proposed wind farm

In a recent development, the size of the proposed Horse Heaven Hills Clean Energy Center in Washington has been reduced by half.

This decision came after concerns were raised regarding the potential impact on firefighting efforts and local wildlife, notably endangered hawks.

Originally planned to stretch across 24 miles of ridge lines in southeastern Washington, the project envisioned by Scout Clean Energy aimed to erect hundreds of wind turbines, some potentially reaching heights 50 feet taller than Seattle’s Space Needle, alongside solar arrays and battery storage facilities.

State council imposes restrictions to protect wildlife and cultural properties

During a recent meeting, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) imposed limitations on turbine placement within the project area.

These measures aim to mitigate impacts on ferruginous hawk nests and ensure the preservation of wildlife corridors and traditional cultural properties.

Despite arguments from Scout Clean Energy that these restrictions lack scientific backing and render the project nonviable in its proposed form, the EFSEC’s decisions reflect a broader concern for environmental and cultural conservation.

Lenny Young, a member of the EFSEC, emphasized the importance of addressing the unmitigable impacts to traditional cultural properties, even as the council rejected further restrictions east of Straub Canyon that would have further limited development.

Scout Clean Energy, in a letter to the council, described the restrictions as arbitrary and detrimental to the project’s feasibility.

Aerial firefighting concerns prompt safety discussions

A focal point of the meeting was the discussion on how wind turbine heights might compromise aerial firefighting capabilities, with Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) highlighting the safety risks.

Turbines reaching up to 657 feet would interfere with aerial firefighting operations typically conducted below 500 feet, creating a de facto no-fly zone over the project site.

This limitation, according to Russ Lane of the DNR Wildland Fire Management Division, necessitates a substantial safety buffer around the turbines to prevent catastrophic accidents involving firefighting aircraft.

Amy Moon, EFSEC siting and compliance lead, and Lonnie Click, Chief of Benton County Fire District No. 1, echoed these concerns, stressing the need for comprehensive ground-based firefighting strategies to compensate for the limitations on aerial approaches.

The council’s deliberations underscore the complexity of balancing renewable energy development with safety and environmental preservation.

The final decision on the project now rests with Governor Jay Inslee, following a period of public comment on the imposed restrictions.

Meanwhile, a bill addressing the highlighted firefighting concerns is currently making its way through the Washington House.

FSJA Comment

The reduction in scope of the Horse Heaven Hills Clean Energy Center project underscores the intricate balance between advancing renewable energy and ensuring the safety and preservation of local ecosystems and cultural heritage.

As wind energy projects become increasingly prevalent, the considerations highlighted in this case—ranging from the impact on endangered species to the challenges posed to firefighting efforts—emphasize the necessity of holistic planning and regulatory oversight.

The debate also reflects broader questions about how to integrate large-scale renewable energy infrastructures into diverse landscapes without compromising critical environmental and safety standards.

The outcome of this project may set precedents for future renewable energy developments, not only in Washington but nationwide, as stakeholders continue to navigate the complexities of sustainable expansion.

Read Next

Subscribe Now