Wilkinson’s group notched a small victory last month after the Union County Board of Commissioners voted to allow residents to weigh in on Antelope Ridge on the November ballot. The results of that vote will be considered public testimony by Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council, according to Oregon Department of Energy spokeswoman Diana Enright. The council, which is the governmental body that decides where energy facilities should be developed in Oregon, will have the final say on whether Antelope Ridge moves forward.
A storm is brewing in the Grande Ronde Valley, and it’s about to get windier.
After the success of its Elkhorn Valley wind farm project near the tiny community of Telocaset, developer Horizon Wind is looking to add as many as 164 turbines to the foothills of this windy valley. But the 475-foot-tall turbines have divided the sparsely populated county.
The Grande Ronde Valley is unique because it is one of only a few Oregon valleys surrounded by mountains. It’s also one of the state’s windiest areas, according to Valerie Franklin, project manager with Horizon Wind. The rolling mountains nestled between the Grande Ronde and Baker valleys also mean strong winds during winter – when turbines lining the Columbia River Gorge aren’t turning.
But despite its rich natural resource, Union County is suffering. Its 10.5 percent unemployment rate is comparable to the state average, but its 15 percent poverty rate is higher. With more farms and timber mills closing each year, some residents feel a few jobs and more tax revenue justify the addition of turbines on the county’s mountains.
Others, like Dennis Wilkinson, president of anti-wind group Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, say wind farms are ruining the valley by introducing roads, noise and red, blinking lights, while bringing in little money and few jobs. Wilkinson and 200 group members have launched an aggressive campaign complete with flyers, county fair booths and ample anti-wind signage to try and sway residents away from wind.