Who should permit big wind projects in Oregon?

Who gets to review and permit big industrial wind projects in Oregon? It’s a hot debate going on now in the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC). An important meeting is taking place at the Hood River Inn in Hood River on Friday, March 12, starting at 12:00 noon, that will help define whether the state or individual counties get to review big wind projects. Please consider attending and speaking up for a fair and open, state-level review of big wind projects.

WHAT:         Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) Hearing
WHEN:         March 12 at 12pm
WHERE:       Hood River Inn (102 Oak Street; Hood River, Oregon)

Projects that generate 105 megawatts of electricity or more (about 65 big turbines) go through a thorough and comprehensive environmental review by EFSC, while smaller projects go through county land use permitting. But when a developer breaks a big project into several smaller pieces to avoid the EFSC review, it clearly violates the Oregon legislature’s intent that big projects that can have major impacts on important natural resources get reviewed at the state level.

This issue is similar to how some developers have broken up their projects, on paper, to ask for five or six times the $10 million Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) available for developing a new wind project. The legislature put a stop to this practice on the BETC in the recent special session. Our allies at the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Audubon Society of Portland and Defenders of Wildlife have petitioned EFSC to clarify that developers who break their projects up artificially into smaller sites to try and avoid EFSC permitting must still get a certificate from EFSC. These are similar arguments to those made by the Sierra Club’s Oregon Chapter in our comments on eastern Oregon’s Steens Mountain wind project in January 2009.

The Sierra Club, ONDA, Audubon and Defenders are particularly concerned about the proposed wind development on Steens Mountain, where a developer has proposed three adjacent sites, each generating 104 megawatts, all with the same owner and all sharing the same transmission line, and tried to get all three permitted by Harney County instead of EFSC. The project is located in core habitat for Greater sage grouse and would have negative effects on migratory birds, raptors and bats, along with industrializing the unspoiled ridges of Steens Mountain with several hundred 400-foot tall turbines and transmission towers. A project of this size is clearly supposed to go through state review.

Please consider attending the March 12th EFSC meeting to support state-level permitting of this and similar artificially-segmented projects. The careful state EFSC permitting process guarantees full and public disclosure of potential impacts and mandatory mitigation from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Making sure that big projects (even if broken up on paper) go through EFSC review will make sure that wind and other renewable energy is sited responsibly throughout Oregon, and makes sure that our voices will be heard when new projects are proposed.

The ONDA/Audubon/Defenders petition will be discussed starting at the EFSC meeting starting at 12:00 noon on Friday, March 12, at the Hood River Inn (102 Oak Street in Hood River).

If you can’t attend, please consider submitting a letter supporting the petition. More information on our allies’ petition, and information about how to submit public comments, is available on the Oregon Natural Desert Association’s websites at: http://onda.org/wind-farms-on-steens.

For more information, or to learn more about how you can become involved in the Sierra Club’s High Desert Protection work, please contact Borden Beck at bborden@teleport.com.

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