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Council moves wind projects forward

The Umatilla County Planning Office has wind energy potential and potential planning potholes on its mind.

Rick Colgan and Tamra Mabbott, representing the Umatilla County Planning Department, requested the state determine transmission line requirements for small or private wind farms during the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council meeting last Friday in Boardman.

In Eastern Oregon, Colgan explained, planning departments are beginning to receive applications for wind turbines or even small farms producing energy below the threshold the siting council regulates.

That means planners need to know transmission line capacity to install. As an example, Colgan said a county could have 30 smaller-capacity lines when it needs just 15.

“Conflicts will continue unless we decide how to build transmission lines,” Colgan said.

Mabbott said siting wind turbines is easy, but transmission lines are a challenge.”

Siting Council President Robert Shiprack agreed, saying the state needs to take action on this item before it gets out of hand.

“That’s why we’ve supported discussions with the counties. This is where these things need to start percolating,” he said. “The state’s going to have to take a role in not only participating but perhaps being the final siter of this. … That’s the real elephant in the room, I think.”

While the siting council didn’t make the issue a bulleted item at its next meeting agenda, Shiprack agreed it was something to be discussed and addressed.

Colgan added he didn’t want to discourage wind development, just establish rules so counties know what to abide by when construction happens.

“Small wind farm development is a good thing,” Colgan said. “Everyone wants green energy.”

During the meeting, the council also took care of a number of housekeeping-type items related to other wind farms in Eastern Oregon. It appointed a team of contractors to assist in completing review for an amendment to the Stateline Wind Farm and appointed the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners as a special advisory group and attorney John Burgess as the hearing officer for a proposed Helix Wind Farm.

Oregon Department of Energy Senior Analyst John White said the company Iberdrola is proposing the new facility near the Stateline Wind Farm.

“It’s not part of Stateline, but it’s in the same general area,” he said.

Assigning an advisory group and hearing officer, White said, were formalities the siting council needed to take care of before the wind company submits an application, which the council expects in August.

The siting council also approved the final order site certificate for Caithness Shepherds Flat, on the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm, about four miles east of Arlington. Though there wasn’t much discussion of the site certificate at Friday’s meeting, the council discussed it at length during last month’s meeting.

“The law requires a site certificate before building or operation,” White explained. “Effective today, parties can proceed to design the final facility and begin construction.”

By Samantha Bates

The East Oregonian

28 July 2008