This pursuit on Oregon lands is part of a national trend. So far, the race to the 10,000-megawatt finish line includes hopeful plans for 12,500 megawatts in solar projects (about 100,000 acres) in the nation’s southwest.
In Oregon — blessed with windy gorges and ridges and cursed by limited transmission in the sunny south — it is wind that is the advancing force. That flat, breezy places along the ready-wired Columbia Gorge are locked up has pushed companies east of the Cascades. There, much of BLM’s 15.7 million Oregon acres are singing opportunity. Wind developers were sleuthing conditions on 177,739 acres in mid-October, testing for possible development. Meanwhile, construction was wrapping up on the first wind farm to be built, the 3.5-megawatt Lime Wind project in Baker County.
In the 12 Western states with lands managed by BLM, there are 47 wind farm proposals on 384,722 acres. Another 169 sites are being tested for wind speeds, 16 in Oregon, making the state the sixth most active for wind development. Projects are under construction on 33,632 public acres nationally. In addition to the recent approval of the West Butte Wind Power Project’s access road and Lime Wind, Spain-based EDP Renewables (formerly Horizon Wind Energy) envisions a 500-megawatt wind farm on Burnt River. The company also plans another wind farm on Pueblo Mountain. Oregon Community Wind, a Portland-based developer focused on small-scale projects, is pursuing a 9-megawatt farm 15 miles east of Lakeview.
“There’s been a rush on developing alternative energy and cashing in on incentive markets,” says Brett Brownscombe, natural resource policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber. But while development moves forward, the rules for siting wind projects, particularly in sensitive habitats, are being made up as projects move along, prompting concerns about whether resource protections for wildlife will keep pace.
In 2009, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski convened a group under the Oregon Solutions umbrella to reconcile the call for energy leases with the state’s energy and wildlife priorities. That conversation continues today, involving seven government agencies and other stakeholders.
“As we continue to think about renewable energy and the need for transmission facilities that will go with that, do we want to continue mitigating on a site-specific basis?” asks Pete Dalke, an Oregon Solutions program manager who coordinates the meetings. “Or do we want to look across Eastern Oregon and look at whether there are key areas of habitat that we want to build upon by preserving it and restoring it and expanding on it?”