Rep. Stephanie Barnard’s bill addressing wind turbine impact on wildfire safety moves forward

Today in Olympia, Rep. Stephanie Barnard achieved a significant milestone as her bill, aiming to tackle the impact of utility-scale wind turbines on wildfire safety, received overwhelming approval from the House Environment and Energy Committee.

House Bill 2117 would enhance the permitting process for utility-scale wind turbines, particularly focusing on mitigating their impact on aerial firefighting capabilities in wildfire-prone areas.

Highlighting the urgency of the issue, Barnard, R-Pasco, emphasized, “Government policies need to acknowledge the dangers presented by the placement of utility-scale wind turbines during wildfires, which have the potential to inflict significant harm on lives, homes, and property.”

Aerial firefighters play an important role in combatting wildfires, but their effectiveness is hindered when wind turbines exceed 496 feet in height, obstructing their flight paths. With commercial wind turbines now reaching over 500 feet, pilots face significant challenges in combating fires efficiently.

According to current statute, siting authorities that review proposals to develop new wind and solar farms must consider environmental impacts. The indirect impacts of a new project on the ability to fight wildfires have not always received careful study and attention.

HB 2117 received praise in committee for its commitment to public safety, as did Barnard for her work on the bill. One crucial amendment, sponsored by Barnard herself, requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to offer written comments before permitting decisions. This ensures a comprehensive evaluation of potential conflicts with aerial wildfire response capabilities.

Under Barnard’s bill, siting authorities would be required to request an up-to-date assessment from the DNR on whether the facility would impact the ability to fight wildfires with helicopters and airplanes. This new, authoritative information could lead to siting authorities denying a proposal or including new mitigation measures.

“This small but important change helps to build a record on which a permit could be approved or denied. Ensuring thorough documentation prior to decision-making is of paramount importance in ensuring the accuracy of the final decision,” remarked Barnard.

HB 2117 now advances to the House Rules Committee for scheduling for deliberation and a vote on the House floor.

The 60-day 2024 legislative session commenced on January 8 and will conclude on March 7.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov