MOSIER – A Massachusetts-based energy company is running into roadblocks as it tries to develop a wind farm on the hills above this Columbia Gorge town.
It has been nearly a year since UPC Wind first asked state regulators to review the 40-turbine project in the windy stretches of the gorge. Revisions promised more than six months ago, have yet to materialize.
UPC is faced with problems trying to rearrange the turbines to make them less visible from a federally protected scenic area, but still in breezy enough spots to produce a moneymaking venture.
The company also is also trying to mollify angry residents near the proposed site, on Sevenmile Hill. It is organized and strong.
“When virtually everyone for miles around says this is a terrible location for a wind farm, you’d think they’d take the hint,” said Jim Yuhas, a nearby homeowner.
UPC Wind said it is studying that site and locations farther from the scenic area’s boundaries.
“We are still very much interested in the area and the project,” said company spokesman John Lamontagne.
The northern perimeter of the project would abut the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Some of the 400-foot-tall turbines would be visible from popular lookouts and along highways and roads that cut through the gorge in Oregon and Washington.
The gorge already has hundreds of turbines, but they lie among wheat fields and scrubland far from people or protected grounds.
The faceoff represents a new level of appraisal in which one environmental ideal must be weighed against another.
UPC Wind’s project, Cascade Wind, would be of modest size. With a 60-megawatt capacity, it would produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 18,000 homes continuously.
Congress created the National Scenic Area in 1986 to “protect and enhance the scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge.”
A 13-member commission carries out the act’s rules and regulations, but it has no jurisdiction over projects outside the designated boundary, no matter how close they might lie.
The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council holds most of the regulatory muscle and will decide if the project would cause a “significant adverse impact to scenic and aesthetic values.”
Last June, the Oregon Department of Energy, which provides staff support for the siting council, deemed UPC Wind’s application incomplete and asked for more information on a wide range of issues.
UPC Wind said it would respond by Aug. 31, 2007 but missed the deadline, submitted a few sketchy revisions in October and has been silent ever since.
Regulators met with developers last month in an effort to nudge the process forward.
“The best they could tell us was that they’re looking at changing the project to respond to the public comments,” said Adam Bless, who heads the Energy Department’s review.
UPC Wind confirmed only that it might move turbines from some spots and add them elsewhere.
Under the most likely scenario, UPC Wind would eliminate some of the 22 turbines planned for the northern section of the project and add some to the southern end six miles away.
Moving the massive towers even a few yards can dramatically cut the amount of wind that hits the blades. Because developers are paid for each kilowatt hour of energy produced, less generation means less cash.
Any changes also would require further environmental impact studies, which could take months.
“The revisions will be extensive and will replace the original application almost entirely,” Bless said. That means the state’s review could stretch well into next year.
Regulators have the authority to set deadlines for project reviews, but haven’t done so in UPC Wind’s case.
Area residents say they are becoming antsy.
“It’s this thing hanging over our heads that has a potentially huge impact on our lives,” said Scott Hege, a general contractor whose 11 acres of hillside command sweeping views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams. “All of us want it resolved.”
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com
The Associated Press
1 April 2008
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