'Eyesore': First Vote on Washington Bill to Stop Wind Turbine Lights From Blinking All Night


A Washington state bill that would require the blinking red lights on wind turbines to turn off when there is no airplane nearby has passed out of a legislative committee after a unanimous vote.

Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, proposed the limit to light pollution just as Scout Clean Energy is seeking approval for up to 244 turbines along the Horse Heaven Hills just south of the Tri-Cities.

Its blinking red lights would be seen along the ridge line of the hills from 20 to 30 miles away, according to those who oppose the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center.

The bill also would require existing wind energy farms in Washington state to install Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems that meet Federal Aviation Administration standards for wind turbines by 2026.

Several states already require that turbines have the radar-detecting systems that only turn on red blinking lights as low-flying airplanes are near and then shut the lights off after they have passed.

Pilots flying at low altitudes at night rely on the blinking lights on wind turbines for safety, "but for many, many others they are a disturbing eyesore and an invasive nuisance," said Paul Krupin, a Kennewick scientist and attorney, at a Jan. 16 hearing on House Bill 1173 before the Washington state House Environment and Energy Committee.

James Conca, a Richland scientist, told the committee that the lights are needed only 2% to 3% of the time.

"In Eastern Washington, while we do not have a lot of say ... where things are basically sited in our region, it is important to us to protect and maintain the beauty of our landscape," Connors said.

The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is evaluating the proposal for the Horse Heaven project, with Gov. Jay Inslee making the final decision on it.

The Association of Washington Business is concerned that costs for adding aircraft detection lighting systems, particularly on existing wind turbines, would be passed on as higher rates to electricity users, said Peter Godlewski, the group's director of government affairs for energy, environment and water, at the legislative hearing.

Krupin said the cost of the intermittent lighting systems is not prohibitive and would reduce public opposition to nearby wind turbines. It also could diminish the perceived risks of harm to property values and tourism, he said.

Tri-Cities business leaders have been concerned that the colorful sunsets enjoyed by tourists at wineries from the Tri-Cities to Benton City would be marred by wind turbines along the Horse Heaven ridge line.

Conca estimated that the lighting systems would cost 0.1% of the total cost of the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center.

"These folks are making tons of money on these projects, most of which goes out of state," Conca said. "So they can certainly do something for the people of this state who are bearing the burden and getting almost none of the benefit."

The fiscal analysis for the bill estimated a Washington state government cost of $846,000 as rules are developed for aircraft detection lighting systems by the Department of Ecology, in cooperation with the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council and the state Department of Transportation.

To comment on House Bill 1173, go to app.leg.wa.gov/PBC/Bill/1173.

The bill now awaits a vote from the full House of Representatives.