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Groups appeal BPA’s approval of Whistling Ridge

Impacts of wind farm debated

Environmental groups Friends of the Columbia Gorge (Friends) and Save Our Scenic Area (SOSA) filed a petition for judicial review in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week challenging a recent decision by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to approve the Whistling Ridge Energy Project’s application to connect to BPA’s energy grid.

The Whistling Ridge Energy Project, proposed by SDS Lumber Company based in Bingen, would be sited near Underwood, Wash. in Skamania County, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. Proposed are 35 wind turbines, each up to 430 feet high.

According to a study attached with the Whistling Ridge application, turbine visibility was noted from White Salmon, Viento State Park, the Historic Columbia River Highway, I-84 in both directions and Hood River, the Hood River News reported in 2012.

The proposed 70-megawatt wind project would interconnect to BPA’s existing North Bonneville-Midway 230-kilovolt transmission line approximately five miles west of its Underwood Substation, according to a report on BPA’s website.

The Friends and SOSA said they are challenging the BPA’s decision because “the agency has failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the proposed energy project.”

“Friends of the Columbia Gorge supports responsible development of renewable energy sources, but the Whistling Ridge proposal is irresponsible,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “This project is not worth sacrificing the unique scenic beauty and wildlife of the Columbia River Gorge.”

In 2002, SDS applied for permission to connect a wind energy project to the BPA’s grid, and in 2007 officially proposed the Whistling Ridge project, then called the Saddleback project. In 2012, Washington State officials approved a scaled-down version of the project, but it still needed federal approval to connect to BPA’s grid, the Federal Columbia River Transmission System.

On June 24, the BPA decided to offer Whistling Ridge Energy contract terms for connecting to the BPA’s grid.

A legal challenge regarding the Governor and Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council’s approval of the site certificate subsequently was filed in state court. The Washington State Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s approval of the project.

Friends and SOSA are represented in their federal appeal by the law office of David H. Becker as well as Gary K. Kahn of Reeves, Kahn, Hennessy & Elkins.

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