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Sidestepping local democracy

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A second huge wind farm in Washington's Kittitas County was proposed in late January with completion expected in 2004. But instead of going directly to state regulators for approval, Desert Claim Wind Power LLC filed for approval of its 180 MW Desert Claim Wind Farm directly with the county commission -- the second wind project developer to bypass the Kittitas county permitting process this year.

Desert Claim is following the example set by Zilkha Renewable Energy earlier in January. It took its application for a 181.5 MW project located in the same area near Ellensburg to the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council where the appeals process, if needed, is shorter and where, says Zilkha, it can get a permit it "can bank on." Ultimately, the state governor will approve or deny that project (Windpower Monthly, February 2003).

County citizens are mixed on support of local wind development, one of the reasons Zilkha took its application out of the county. But David Steeb from wind developer EnXco, which owns Desert Claim, says a survey found that not only do 65% of people favour wind development in the county, but those on both sides of the issue favour local approval over the state process.

Geoff Saunders of Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, says filing with the county is the right thing for EnXco to do and that going to the state shows a lack of regard for the community. The county made strides in December in streamlining its approval projects when it passed a wind farm development review process that gives commissioners the final say in all wind project approvals. Prior to December, approval of the county planning commission, which proved to be a stumbling block for Zilkha, was needed before commission review.

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