Over three years, Klickitat County in southern Washington, studied the potential impacts of future energy projects within its borders and came up with a plan to direct those projects to the most appropriate areas. The county’s new "Energy Overlay Zone" is a zoning tool aimed at expediting renewable energy development. The Energy Overlay Zone covers more than 1,000 square miles, two-thirds of Klickitat County.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Energy Overlay Zone was released in August 2004. The county spent about $500,000 to assess the potential for energy development, including wind energy/avian impacts, a review of land uses and the economics involved. Using projections of likely energy facility development in the region over the next twenty years, for purposes of analysis the EIS assumed that up to 1,750 megawatts (MW) of new natural gas projects, 100 MW of biomass projects, 1,000 MW of wind projects, and a small number of solar projects might be constructed in the county.
The FEIS had also included a new "Limited Geographic Alternative" that defined a narrower geographic area within the Energy Overlay Zone where gas-fired and biomass energy plants could have been sited. This provision was opposed by citizen groups and environmental organizations including Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and the Klickitat County Stewardship Council. In March 2005, a settlement was reached between the groups and the County and the biomass/natural gas areas were removed from the Energy Overlay Zone. Under the settlement agreement, the new Energy Overlay Zone is only available for wind and solar power projects.
Typically, each energy project would have to have a specific zoning application and approval process. Now, for example, siting wind turbines in the Energy Overlay Zone will be automatically approved at the county level without the need for further investigation or permitting. Energy projects must still meet the requirements of Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
Developers are happy with the new zoning because much of the upfront environmental analysis has already been done and there are now clear, publicly reviewed boundaries in Klickitat County where wind and solar energy projects are an allowed use. This means much of the risk of selecting sites for development is removed.
Some residents were opposed to the Energy Overlay Zone because of concerns over visual, habitat, and other environmental impacts of energy projects. Other residents wanted to be included in the Energy Overlay Zone because they had already signed land lease agreements with wind developers.
- Final Energy Overlay Zone and Environmental Impact Statement Files – issued by Klickitat County, August 2004 and March 2005