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State's largest wind project awaits approval  

Developer describes Shepherds Flat project between Ione and Arlington

Developers of the largest wind farm in Oregon expect to begin field work this year and hope to be generating power in 2010.

Patricia Pilz, representing Caithness Shepherds Flat of Sacramento, Calif., gave the Willow Creek Valley Economic Development Group a project update Thursday. She gave the 49 in attendance at the Heppner Senior Center an eye-opening view of what the 300-turbine network would involve.

Developers have been working on the project in Gilliam and Morrow counties for more than five years, she said. They have applied to the state for up to 303 turbines on about 32,000 acres straddling the Gilliam-Morrow county line from Horseshoe Bend on Willow Creek, between Ione and Cecil, to the Columbia River and from Highway 74 halfway to Arlington.

The original plan called for 2.5-megawatt turbines, but the developers hope to erect 3-megawatt turbines, bringing the project’s capacity to more than 900 megawatts. The project is expected to cost more than $1.3 billion.

Pilz said the wind farm would be three times the size of the Stateline project in northern Oregon and southern Washington. By comparison, the Leaning Juniper project south of Arlington has 67 turbines producing 100 megawatts.

“It’s the largest single wind facility that’s ever been permitted,” she said of Shepherds Flat.

John White, senior analyst for the Oregon Department of Energy, said Friday Shepherds Flat has not been permitted, but if the state grants it a site certificate, it would be the largest in Oregon, maybe in the Northwest.

Pilz said the developers expect to receive their site certificate this spring and will begin field work shortly thereafter. The two-year construction will involve up to 250 workers on the job at one time.

The massive project will provide a lot of local contracting and labor opportunities, she said, because the general contractors will need water, gravel, washed rock, fencing and concrete.

“We’re going to buy a lot of fencing,” she said. “It’s a lot of land.”

The developers do not intend to establish a concrete batch plant, but will rely on local concrete contractors, she added. There also will be job opportunities involving grading, earth-moving, hauling and road building. The plans envision about 65 miles of roads. Not all will be new, but all will be improved gravel roads.

“We’re using existing ranch roads,” Pilz said. “They’re going to be beautiful.”

Workers will stay in area motels and recreational vehicle parks, drink in local bars, eat in local restaurants and buy from local stores, she said, adding that hardware stores should do especially well.

The workers “always screw up and they forget stuff and they break stuff,” she said.

Once the project is complete, Caithness will employ up to 32 workers, Pilz said, including about 25 at a north field workshop and another seven at a south field workshop. At that point Caithness also would begin paying taxes, about $4 million annually to Gilliam County and $1.2 million to Morrow County.

Lease payments to the landowners would be about $4,000 per turbine during the 20-year power purchase agreement, which Pilz called the “first life” of the project.

“It’ll have another life after that,” she said.

Penny Krebs, who with her husband, Skye, owns the majority of the Gilliam County property involved, said they’re eager for the project to begin taking shape on the rangeland where they graze cattle and sheep.

“We’re excited about it,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Skye’s brother, Clint Krebs, who owns property in Morrow County involved in the project, agreed.

“It’s been a long, slow process,” he said. “I think the bottom line is going to be good for the county and the state and the communities. It’s complementary to what I want to continue doing, which is farming and ranching.”

The Oregon Department of Energy is preparing a draft proposed order for the project after closing a comment period Jan. 10. At least one public hearing will be scheduled before the state issues a proposed order.

The Bonneville Power Administration Web site shows that agency has received five comments indicating concern about the project. Joe and Donna Rietmann of Ione have expressed the greatest concern.

“… Some care in designing the project to avoid adverse impact on humans and the natural environment should be taken,” they wrote on a BPA comment form. The Rietmanns also expressed concerns about migratory bird flight patterns, the impact on bunchgrass and sage, on Oregon Trail sites and that turbines might block their view of Mount Hood from 70595 Dave Rietmann Road.

“Property value may be negatively impacted with loss of view,” they noted.

Dennis Kowalke expressed concern to the BPA about curlew nesting sites along Rhea Road east of Arlington. Dave Pranger of the Morrow County Weed Control District said the project should have before and after weed inventories and a weed management plan.

Two other comments the BPA collected involved concerns about the turbines impact on regional bird and bat species, and upon the Washington ground squirrel.

By Dean Brickney

The East Oregonian

16 February 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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