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Agency kicks back Sevenmile wind plan

An application to site a 40-tower, 60-megawatt wind farm on Sevenmile Hill, west of The Dalles, was deemed incomplete last week by the Oregon Department of Energy (ODE) and returned to its authors with a request for supplemental information in key areas of concern.

In a letter mailed June 7, ODE informed UPC Wind Development, LLC, the company behind the proposed Cascade Wind Project, that it had until June 20 to submit a date by which a complete application would be submitted.

According to ODE’s Adam Bless, “no one has ever submitted a complete application on the first try,” so this wrinkle doesn’t come as a great shock to those close to the process.

“What it says is that there’s a process and that we’re able to be part of the process,” said Scott Hege, who has actively opposed the project as a member of both Families for Sevenmile and Alliance for Smart Wind Development.

In its letter, ODE listed a large number of comments and qusetions that need to be addressed in a supplement to the approximately 1,000 page application.

“This is very typical for an energy facility siting application,” said UPC’s Krista Kisch.

Bless said that in the application comment period, which officially ended May 25, the department received approximately 100 letters regarding the Cascade Wind Project. Of those, Bless estimated that a mere three were in support of the proposed wind farm.

Concern over what roads would be used to transport the wind turbines and equipment was one of myriad issues identified by Bless. He also said that the application did not do an acceptable job of addressing the concerns of locals in the areas of noise – and the resulting health effects – or of the impact on wildlife.

Among the letters received by the department, Bless said many came from both the federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, testifying to the negative impact such a large-scale project could have on local biology.

Some comments, according to Bless, questioned the validity of UPC’s noise analysis at the proposed site, and asked if it properly took into account the unique, uneven and rocky terrain of the land.

The application “didn’t fully describe what the visual impact on the national scenic area would be,” according to Bless, who said the letter also asked UPC for more detail in that area.

“The next step is for UPC to figure out how long it would really take them to provide an adequate application supplement,” Bless said.

Kisch said UPC has been collecting feelings from the public since it began exploring the possibility of siting the wind farm on Sevenmile.

“We had a pretty good idea of what we were going to need to work on and now we have it officially,” she said.

An actual deadline was not imposed, according to Bless, because he’s “never been in the applicant’s shoes” and doesn’t know how long the process will take UPC.

The fact that the company will now have to enter phase two of drafting its application is not an indictment against the quality of the application, according to Bless.

“In terms of this application compared to other applications, I’d say they actually did a better than average job,” Bless said. “For a less controversial site, this application did a very good job.”

However, Cascade Winds is very controversial and thus must be approached with greater scrutiny. Bless said that the average proposal generates just a handful of comments. He cited the Golden Hills project in Sherman County as one that received only a few comments, all positive.

“I think it’s a pretty clear message,” Hege said, “that there’s a lot of concerns about this.

A copy of the letter ODE sent to UPC was not immediately available, but the department said it would be posted on its Web site sometime this week.

By Bill Oram
Of The Chronicle

The Dalles Chronicle

12 June 2007