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Wash. Wind farm would reportedly have big economic impact in Kittitas Co. March 8, 2009

A proposed wind farm northwest of Ellensburg will contribute $17.3 million to the local economy during construction and $2.8 million every year it operates.

That’s what the proposed Desert Claim Wind Power Project will bring to Kittitas County, according to a Central Washington University economic impact report.

“It’s a good chunk of change,” said Richard Mack, a CWU economics professor and the lead author of the report.

The report also predicted the site will create 160 jobs during construction and 25 permanent jobs once it’s built, as well as $900,000 in local property taxes.

The study was commissioned by enXco, the California-based developer of the $330 million, 95-turbine Desert Claim. EnXco also owns the Goodnoe Hills wind farm in Klickitat County.

If permitted, Desert Claim will be the fourth wind power project destined for Kittitas County. It will cover 5,200 acres and generate 190 megawatts, enough to provide electricity to 57,000 homes. The company hopes to start construction in 2010.

Mack’s report, released Thursday evening, estimates the full range of economic impacts involving construction of the wind farm and its operation from year to year. The study is based on local economic conditions and formulas specific to wind farms that are recommended by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The 160 construction jobs would come at a great time for about 200 Kittitas County construction workers currently out of work, Mack said. The county had an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent at the end of January, Mack said, higher than the state and national averages.

More than half of those jobs — perhaps up to 60 percent or 70 percent — probably will be filled by local contractors, said David Steeb, the project director.

Much of the work at a wind farm is technical, but a lot of it involves roads, cement foundations and electrical equipment common to any construction site, Steeb said. This would be only bigger.

“There’s nothing really magical about it,” Steeb said.

Once the turbines are built, the facility will continue to support 25 new jobs, generating $986,000 of income per year, the study notes.

About half of those employees will work directly for enXco, doing everything from clerical duties to changing lubricants to cleaning the bugs off the turbine blades, Steeb said.

Average wages would be about $14.49 per hour for administrative employees, while technicians would make $20 per hour and managers $38.19 per hour.

The other half would show up in support businesses, such as hardware stores and local maintenance contractors, which would boost staffing levels to serve the wind farm.

In addition, the company would make about $600,000 annually in lease payments to landowners, the study said.

Ellensburg business leaders like the forecast.

“We’re excited,” said Marshall Madsen, president of the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce. “Let’s bring it on.”

Madsen said that when the Wild Horse Wind Farm was built east of Ellensburg in 2006, many construction workers stayed in local motels.

The state’s energy plant permitting process requires economic impact studies for the entire state. EnXco is working on one of those, Steeb said. Mack’s report was extra, Steeb said, to gauge the impact on just Kittitas County.

The company has been designing the project since 2001. It’s first application was rejected by Kittitas County commissioners nearly four years ago because the 350 turbine towers were too close to the homes of nonparticipating neighbors. That position was upheld by a Kittitas County Superior Court judge.

The company reapplied last month with the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council after redesigning the project with turbines farther away from most of the homes.

Ross Courtney, Yakima Herald


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