In a unanimous decision, the Washington State Supreme Court backed then-Gov. Christine Gregoire’s March 2012 approval of the Whistling Ridge Wind Energy Project.
The court action denied a legal challenge to erecting 35 wind turbines on private industrial timberland in eastern Skamania County, Wash. The project, when fully developed, could potentially generate 70 MW.
The Washington high court issued its 34-page decision Aug. 29.
The governor had approved the project after the developers had reduced the scope of the proposed project from 50 wind turbines to 35. The reduced size was in response to concerns over scenic views near the Columbia Gorge area.
The project would be spread across an 1,150-acre area in a longtime logging area, although only 57 acres would be permanently developed. The land contains a network of logging roads, two clear-cut corridors for Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) high voltage lines, as well as a natural gas pipeline on the north end of the site. No wind turbine would be within 4,000 feet of a residence.
“Economically, the area has seen a significant decline since the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species, which greatly reduced the output of the lumber industry in the region,” the court noted in its ruling.
The Supreme Court dismissed assertions made by the Portland-based Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and its ally Save Our Scenic Area. The court found that Whistling Ridge’s permit application was not flawed as the petitioners claimed, and that the responsible state agency, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), considered all of the wind facility’s potential impacts.
“Any minor deficiencies in the application itself are to be expected and do not warrant reversal,” the court wrote. “Invalidation of the completed review and recommendation would also defeat the purpose of the extended hearings and [EFSEC’s] ongoing oversight of the project.”
“Today’s decision is an unequivocal affirmation for following a criteria-based, objective process in reviewing energy projects,” said Timothy McMahan, Stoel Rives partner and lead attorney for Whistling Ridge LLC. “The Court confirmed it will defer to EFSEC and the Governor when they consider the entire record and apply the applicable regulatory standards.”
Whistling Ridge LLC first proposed the $150m wind farm in spring of 2008 securing the support of many local, state and tribal organizations.
“The Siting Council, the Governor and now the Washington Supreme Court have all recognized that this project is outside of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, and that all impacts have been appropriately mitigated,” said SDS Lumber and Whistling Ridge Energy LLC’s President Jason Spadaro.
The case is Friends of Columbia Gorge v. EFSEC, No. 88089-1.