State legislatures in Washington once called a proposed wind farm on Radar Ridge near Naselle “a great idea.” But state legislator Dan Takko added, “it’s got all the good things going for it, except for that little bird.” The little bird is the marbled murrelet, a threatened species since 1992.
Concern for the robin-sized bird has been enough to kill the wind farm project. Energy Northwest and four Southwest Washington utilities canceled the Radar Ridge project, which was to include 32 wind turbines and would have been the first major wind farm in the region. About $4 million had been spent on the proposed project since 2007, but new restrictions proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were unreasonable, according to Energy Northwest. A draft environmental impact statement by the USFWS called for the Radar Ridge turbines to be shut down six months of the year during daylight hours to protect the bird.
Marbled murrelets nest in old growth trees and fly to the ocean to feed on fish. One study on the proposed wind farm concluded that the spinning blades would kill one murrelet per year at most. That seems acceptable, considering that about 18,000 of the birds are thought to exist. Wind advocate point out that, unlike hydroelectric dams, wind farms don’t harm fish.
Though the marbled murrelet was the main factor that grounded the Radar Range proposal, the crumbling market for wind-generated power and the politics blowing around the issue were likely factors, too.
One reason the Cowlitz PUD’s (a Washington state public utility district) went up 18% recently is that the utility can’t sell as much electricity from its wind farms in Klickitat County as it once did. A California law requires utilities there to buy their wind power from within the Golden State.
Possible changes to Washington’s I-937, passed by state voters in 2006, could also have a big effect on the wind power market, too. The voter-approved initiative requires utilities to get 9% of their power from “new” sources of renewable energy, such as wind. That percentage is scheduled to increase to 15% in 2020. Those seeking change point out the law’s logic-defying exclusion of hydro power as “renewable,” even though the rain falls as reliably as the wind blows.
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