LONGVIEW – Washington voters gave electrical utilities a clear mandate in 2006 to develop clean, renewable energy. But in their efforts to generate green power, some utilities and industries in Western Washington are running into unexpected opposition from environmentalists concerned the projects aren’t green enough.
Concerns have been raised in South Sound and other areas over biomass boilers that burn wood inefficiently and create too much air pollution. Tidal power is experimental, and it’s not known what the potential harm would be to fish and sea life, the Daily News of Longview reported.
Meanwhile, in southwest Washington, conservation groups oppose a proposed wind farm because it sits in the middle of habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet.
Technologies once seen as squeaky clean are facing surprising resistance now that they have become possible from both engineering and financial perspectives, according to the Daily News.
“It’s worth asking for any energy source – whether it’s a fossil source or a nonfosssil source – what the impacts are of the development of that source of energy,” said Craig Partridge, policy director for state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.
Under Initiative 937, passed by voters in 2006, large utilities are required to get 3 percent of their generation from renewable sources such as wind, biomass, tidal and solar by 2012. The requirements jump to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020.
Energy Northwest is hoping to build Western Washington’s first wind-energy project atop a ridge near Naselle.
Dave Kobus, project manager for the Richland-based public power consortium, said the project would help utilities meet their renewable energy standards. Grays Harbor PUD owns nearly half the project’s output, while PUDs in Pacific, Clallam and Mason counties share the remaining.
Conservation groups opposed to the project say the renewable energy isn’t worth the possible harm to the murrelet, a threatened seabird that continues to decline.
Shawn Cantrell, executive director of the Seattle Audubon Society, a leading opponent of the proposed Radar Ridge wind farm, said some spots aren’t appropriate for wind energy.
“It has to be sited in a good spot. We wouldn’t want to put a new wind power project or other major facility in a wilderness area, or in a national park, or in a cemetery,” he told the Daily News.
Officials for project developer Energy Northwest say they have set aside a 270-acre marbled murrelet habitat nearby in Grays Harbor County and tried to reduce the impact of the project.
“I couldn’t have anticipated it being this difficult when we started,” Kobus told the newspaper.
I-937, however, has helped stimulate renewable energy development. Last year, Washington ranked as the nation’s fifth-largest producer of wind energy. Some utilities have excess clean power to sell to California and Oregon utilities.
Dave Andrew, a spokesman for Cowlitz PUD, says the utility has developed nearly all the renewable power it needs to meet the requirements of I-937.
“It’s clearly not easy. With the wind projects, the financing part was difficult, but we made it. It depends on how difficult it is, and how bad you need it,” Andrew said.