A massive new wind farm proposed on 61,000 acres east of Heppner would more than double the power generated in Morrow County if approved by the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.
Heppner Wind Energy LLC, a project of Chicago-based Invenergy, in late June notified the Oregon Department of Energy that it plans to formally apply for a site certificate in March 2013.
The 500-megawatt project would yield increased tax revenue for Morrow County and bring as many as 100 temporary construction jobs and 30 new permanent jobs. But the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, for one, is already concerned about the project impact on raptors and big-game animals.
“We’re not saying that it’s bad, we’re saying that there are effects for what we do,” said Heppner district biologist Steve Cherry. “Everything on the landscape affects wildlife.”
The project, proposed for private property on either side of Highway 74, could have up to 310 1.5- to 3-megawatt turbines, 394 feet to 533 feet tall.
“This equates to enough power each year to supply clean, renewable energy to approximately 125,000 homes,” Alissa Krinsky, a spokesperson for Invenergy, said in an email.
The project could pump several million dollars into the local economy in the form of employee salaries, property tax revenue and lease royalty payments to project landowners, Krinsky said.
So far, wind farms have generated significant property tax revenue for the region.
In Morrow County in 2011 the Willow Creek, Echo Wind and Threemile Canyon Wind projects, producing a combined 100 megawatts, paid $650,000 in property taxes, according to the county tax assessor. Projects and turbines under construction are not included in taxable property value.
In contrast, Umatilla County’s six wind projects in 2011 brought in a total of about $2.4 million in property tax revenue, after government tax credits and deductions.
Those projects this year generate a combined 382 megawatts, said Carol Johnson, Umatilla County senior planner. Information on the amount of power generated by Umatilla County wind projects in 2011 was unavailable Tuesday.
Morrow County Assessor Greg Sweek said wind projects are “not a small thing” for the county. But they do not generate nearly as much as the county’s top property-tax payer — the Portland General Electric plant in Boardman.
“The PGE coal-fired plant has always been our biggest asset from when it was built,” Sweek said. In 2011 the plant, which generates 600 megawatts, paid $3.5 million in property taxes.
The plant, which began operation in 1977, is scheduled to close in 2020.
But the Heppner project is one of the first of its kind in the Columbia Basin to be proposed on a big-game winter range, Cherry said.
“What we don’t know is whether the turbine pad or the road, or the vehicle going up or down the road to do maintenance on the turbine is going to disturb or displace the animals in the area,” he said.
Golden eagles, ferruginous hawks and Swainson’s hawks also are in the area, he said. In Oregon, golden eagles are protected nongame wildlife. The ferruginous and Swainson’s hawks are “sensitive species” — a step down from “threatened” status, Cherry explained.
He said the department is also looking at the turbine’s affects on migratory bat populations.
“A lot of the stuff is still pretty new because wind power is relatively new to the United States,” Cherry said. “There’s a lot of issues that we don’t fully understand.”