Whatcom Wind Whipsawed: County Council Adopts Ordinance Effectively Banning Wind

November 21, 2012

In another troubling example of growing local opposition to renewable energy development, the Whatcom County Council has adopted a new ordinance that restricts large wind generators (above 50 kW capacity) to County lands zoned for heavy-impact industrial uses. Because the County's best wind resources are located along windy ridges, rather than in low-elevation industrial areas, the ordinance effectively bans new utility-scale wind power development in Whatcom County.

The ordinance is the product of a lengthy public process in Whatcom County, initiated by neighbors' reactions against a 2010 proposal to build a community-owned wind turbine on Squalicum Mountain. The new ordinance replaces a 2008 ordinance that allowed construction of wind turbines across much of the County. The new ordinance is part of a disturbing trend of organized opposition to renewable energy development, at least some of which appears to be funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Opponents have attacked wind projects on various grounds. Opposition claims range from, for example, undesirable aesthetic impacts on scenic areas (a case raising such concerns related to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is now pending in the Washington Supreme Court) to outre theories of "wind turbine syndrome," which claim that wind turbines cause health problems ranging from sleep loss to weight gain and herpes.

These developments underscore the need for renewable energy developers to conduct careful advanced outreach with the public in areas that might be affected by proposed developments. Developers also need to be prepared to address controversy as they obtain permits should public outreach fail to mollify opposition.

If you have any questions about renewable energy development in the State of Washington, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities practice group or Environment and Natural Resources practice group. We have years of experience in energy, land use, and development matters, the Northwest's energy industry, complex administrative matters, appellate litigation, and related fields. GTH helped the Coyote Crest Wind Park obtain all necessary permits to proceed with development, the first (and so far only) wind farm to obtain all such permits in Western Washington.