Wind turbine farms in Washington State will be required to turn their blinking red lights off at night when no low-flying aircraft are near after Gov. Jay Inslee signed the requirement into law on Tuesday May 9, 2023.
The bill sponsored by Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, will take effect July 1, 2023 for new wind farms.
Existing wind farms in Washington with at least five or more turbines must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration by Jan. 1, 2028, for approval of a lighting system that detects approaching aircraft and have it installed within two years of approval.
Connors was concerned that Inslee would veto it.
“House Bill 1173 will help preserve the beauty of our night skies in Eastern Washington,” Connors said.
The blinking red lights on wind turbines are needed to alert low-flying aircraft, but they cause light pollution and can be an eyesore for people living nearby, said supporters of the bill.
The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems that rely on radar detection to turn the lights on when aircraft are nearby and then turn them off after they have passed.
Several states already require the systems.
The Legislature approved the final version of the bill 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 eventually had support from Energy Northwest, PacifiCorp and Puget Sound Energy, she said. But other clean power organizations and companies were lobbying against the bill, which would increase their wind farm costs, she said.
Inslee told her during a visit to the Tri-Cities last week, at which he signed other bills, that he would call her if there were any problems with the bill, Connors said.
So she was surprised when the governor vetoed two sections of the bill Tuesday without discussing it with her, she said.
Governor Inslee vetoes sections:
One was an emergency clause that would have the bill take effect immediately. Connors said the governor had canceled emergency clauses in other bills this session.
The other section the governor vetoed would have provided counties in the state some local control. It would have given county commissioners authority to establish the amount of light pollution that would be allowed, whether it was with new technology approved in the future by the FAA or deciding that a wind farm in a remote area did not need to reduce its light pollution.
Inslee said as he signed the bill that he was looking forward to discussing options that might be needed to support wind farm developers with retrofitting lights.
“I wasn’t super excited to have those section vetoes, but I am extremely happy we got this passed,” Connors said.
Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
May 10, 2023