Despite the Washington Supreme Court’s recent decision, the Whistling Ridge Energy Project remains a poorly sited and designed project that threatens the Columbia Gorge’s scenery, wildlife and communities, while promising little to no benefits for a region already oversaturated with wind energy. Fortunately, the court’s decision is not the final word in the public debate over this ill-conceived proposal.
According to the Supreme Court, several issues are yet to be resolved by state officials, including impacts to migratory birds, wildlife mitigation and review of the project’s clear-cuts and other forest practices. In the court’s words, these issues are not yet “ripe” for public review.
In addition, the Bonneville Power Administration has not made a decision whether to approve the project. Friends of the Columbia Gorge will continue to participate in the public processes on these and other unresolved issues.
Even setting aside those points, it is unclear whether the project would ever be built. Because of public concerns about impacts to scenic and cultural heritage resources, state officials decided to reduce the potential size of the project. The applicant has said the scaled-down project is not currently economically viable; this is especially true now that California has stopped purchasing new wind energy from the Northwest. And with the ongoing phasing out of government tax breaks and subsidies for wind energy, the project’s future viability is uncertain at best.
In conclusion, the future of this controversial project remains in limbo even after the court’s decision, with important decisions yet to be made by state and federal agencies, no apparent market for the relatively small amount of energy the project might produce, and the phasing out of wind energy tax breaks and subsidies.
Nathan Baker is staff attorney for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.