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Columbia Gorge victory

The wind project planned for the Columbia Gorge in the US Northwest has cleared a major hurdle, a Yakima County judge has ruled that the proposal does adequately address concerns over possible wildlife kills and the disruption of Native American artefacts. The wind plant still requires a go-ahead from Bonneville Power Administration which would buy the electricity.

A long heralded 25 MW wind project planned for the Columbia Gorge in the US Northwest has cleared a major hurdle. A Yakima County judge has ruled that the 91 turbine proposal does adequately address concerns over possible wildlife kills and the disruption of Native American artefacts. But the wind plant still requires a go-ahead from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which would buy the electricity.

The project, planned near Goldendale in Washington state, would be the first commercial wind plant in the Pacific Northwest and the first domestic use of FloWind's AWT-26 turbines. It is proposed by a consortium of eight Washington small public utilities known as CARES or the Conservation and Renewable Energy System and is officially called Columbia Windfarm No. 1.

The ruling on September 26 was a victory for the project. The Columbia Gorge Audubon Society and the Yakama Indian Nation had filed for a review of the conditional use permit issued to the project by the Klickitat County Board of Adjustment. Ben Wolff, project manager, told the Associated Press he was "pleased but not surprised" by the judge's decision. He says the project could be operational by the spring.

Before that can happen, however, BPA's approval is required. The federal utility and power administrator has been concerned that any kills in the wind farm of endangered birds, such as eagles or falcons, could mean that federal employees are personally liable. Legal liability is also the issue regarding Native American sites, says BPA's Crystal Ball (sic). BPA, which has been negotiating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other officials to resolve the matter, had earlier this year extended a line of credit to CARES from $2 million to $4 million for developing the project.

Nearby, a 345 turbine project proposed by Kenetech Windpower Inc is also in limbo and looks less likely to proceed anytime soon. Kenetech, which has sought bankruptcy protection, hopes to sell the project to another developer. A similar legal challenge filed against the Kenetech project by the Audubon Society and the Yakama Tribe is on hold because of Kenetech's bankruptcy.

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