LA GRANDE – By a slim majority Tuesday, Union County voters said they don’t like the idea of Horizon Wind Energy building the 300-megawatt Antelope Ridge Wind Farm near Union.
Horizon, the owner of the 100-megawatt Elkhorn Ridge wind farm at Telocaset, has applied to the Oregon Department of Energy for a site certificate for Antelope Ridge. Tuesday’s vote capped months of controversy over the issue.
The site certificate application is pending before the Energy Facility Siting Council. The state and not Union County has jurisdiction in the matter, though Horizon is required to meet land use and zoning criteria, in addition to meeting all state requirements.
The anti-wind farm group Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, headed by Cove resident Dennis Wilkinson, asked the Union County Board of Commissioners this fall to poll voters on whether they favored the project. After extensive public hearings the board decided to place a non-binding advisory vote on the ballot.
During the public hearings, opinions on the wind farm were evenly divided. Voting Tuesday was close as well, with 52 percent of the voters saying they do not favor construction, and 48 percent saying they do.
Despite the narrow margin, Wilkinson this morning said he thinks the outcome is significant.
“With the defeat of Measure 31-75, the people of Union County have made an informed and educated decision that they do not want the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm in their community,” he said.
He said the vote will “resonate throughout the country proving that people in rural communities are standing up to the foreign corporations that are attempting to destroy the land, way of life, wildlife, health and more in the name of ‘clean, renewable energy.’”
Many local people who testified in favor of the project this fall said they see the project as a way to create jobs and stimulate economic development while supporting renewable energy. Others said they are in favor because of property rights.
Valerie Franklin, Horizon’s Antelope Ridge project manager, said this morning the company is disappointed with the outcome of the vote, but will continue to pursue the project.
“We are disappointed, naturally, but this was a non-binding advisory vote so our efforts are focused on working with the Energy Facility Siting Council in order to bring more renewable energy online and more economic benefits to Union County,” she said.
Wilkinson, on the other hand, vowed continued stiff opposition.
“This triumph is only the beginning. Next stop is EFSC siting and on to the Oregon Supreme Court if necessary,” he said.
Costs for Antelope Ridge construction are estimated at $600 million, and Horizon has pledged to contract with local businesses for services. The company also says Antelope Ridge will yield about 20 full-time, permanent family wage jobs.
If a Strategic Investment Program agreement recently worked out between Horizon and Union County goes forward, the county will garner about $40 million in taxes and fees over the projected 15-year life of the wind farm.
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