Wind Farms Trump Local Land-Use Laws, Washington Governor, Court Decide

Published February 1, 2009

Local communities cannot block the construction of industrial wind farms, related transmission lines, or other renewable energy projects under local land-use laws, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled.

Governor Overrides County

Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy has proposed building a 100-megawatt industrial wind farm in Kittitas County, Washington. County officials rejected the proposal, determining Horizon would be placing its turbines too close to adjacent properties. A 2001 state law gives the governor the power to preempt local land-use laws for alternative energy projects.

Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) exercised her authority to override the county’s rejection of the wind farm, and the county took its argument to the Washington Supreme Court. The state supreme court ruled the county’s concerns for adjacent property owners did not nullify the governor’s power to approve the industrial wind farm.

Horizon abided by its requirements to seek and consider public comment, and the governor did not exceed her power in siding with Horizon, the court ruled.

County Cries Foul

“The project went through an extensive review, and only after I gave it careful consideration did I choose to exercise state authority to site the project,” Gregoire said in a press statement.

Kittitas County Commissioner Mark McClain responded in a press statement, saying Kittitas County has approved other wind farms, supporting his argument that the county’s decision regarding the Horizon project was well-reasoned and not simply a knee-jerk reaction against wind power.

“I find it amazing and disappointing that an unelected body can run roughshod over a community, exhibit blatant disregard for the appearance of fairness, and still find support from such learned justices,” McClain said in his statement.

Property Rights Upheld

Todd Myers, director of the Washington Policy Center, is skeptical of the promised benefits of wind power but nevertheless applauded the Washington Supreme Court’s decision.

“In many ways this decision can be seen as the opposite of the facts presented in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London,” Myers said. “Here we have state government preserving property rights when local governments are trying to restrict them.

“If farmers want to earn money by putting windmills on their property,” Myers continued, “we should honor their right to do so when reasonable. Local decisions are certainly preferable to those imposed from the state or federal level, but individual property rights should be given the highest priority.

“There are problems with our energy policy, including renewable portfolio standards and preferential renewable subsidies. But denying property rights is not the proper way to deal with those problems. I hope the supreme court will apply the same logic when it comes to other permits and not just wind farms,” Myers said.

Penny Rodriguez ([email protected]) writes from Parrish, Florida.