State energy officials tilting at windmills

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

BURNS Concerned about a proliferation of wind farms just small enough to fall outside of its jurisdiction, the state Department of Energy has notified Harney County that it wants to examine several recently approved wind-generation projects to see if they should be considered as one “energy generation area” and come under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC).

One environmental group is pleased, one county judge is frustrated. The state says it is not trying to stop the projects but wants to make sure any cumulative impact is addressed.

Harney’s planning commission recently approved three separate 104-megawatt projects by developer Columbia Energy Partners of Vancouver. Columbia’s fourth project, at Mann Lake, is also 104 megawatts and already permitted. “For business reasons it makes sense to do it in 100-megawatt increments,” says Chris Crowley of Columbia Energy. “These are different projects with different financing and transmission issues.” Currently, there is no transmission capacity to run power out of the three proposed projects.

“This isn’t just about Harney County,” says Diana Enright, assistant director of the state’s renewable energy division. “We are working with all counties that are developing small wind farms.” The energy council was to meet in late September to consider the issue.

“I would like to work with the state and use their expertise, but we have statutory authority to do this,” says Harney County Judge Steve Grasty. “The developer has been on this a long time, and this is the first glimmer of hope for job creation in this county.” Grasty says about 35-60 permanent jobs would be created by the four projects.

“EFSC is a more time-consuming and costly process,” says Crowley. “A good county process can lead to the same result.” Crowley in late August asked for a continuance so he could talk to environmental groups about their concerns.

Dave Becker, staff attorney for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, says he considers Columbia’s four projects as one 400-megawatt project that was split to get around state review. He says the applications have insufficient detail about the environmental impact of the wind turbines, which would be near wilderness and wildlife refuge areas that are major flyways for migrating birds.

Enright emphasizes that state involvement “won’t stop the Harney projects. I spent two days last week in Burns with the judge. We are all working toward the same goal. The state wants to develop renewable energy.”

ROBIN DOUSSARD




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