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Nest could nix wind plan; Wildlife Service asks for turbine-free nest area

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like wind turbines in Wasco County to be sited no closer than six miles from a golden eagle nest.

On Monday, the Bend office of the federal agency submitted that recommendation in a letter to the Oregon Department of Energy. Under discussion is the Summit Ridge wind project proposed by LotusWorks of Vancouver, Wash. The company is seeking to site up to 87 wind turbines on private farm land one to four miles west of the Deschutes River Canyon.

ODE is responsible for reviewing wind turbine projects greater than 105 megawatts, while the county reviews those less than that number. Summit Ridge is expected to produce 200 megawatts of power.

“The service believes the project, including all turbines, transmission and roads, and associated facilities has the potential to result in injury and mortality of individual eagles and potential loss of nest sites over the life of the project,” wrote Nancy Gilbert, USFWS field supervisor, in the Sept. 20 report.

The federal agency has also requested that:

“On face value, you’d never get the project financed with those requirements,” said Steve Ostrowski, president of LotusWorks. “We need to sit down with USFWS and see if we can find a course of action that will address both of our concerns.”

He said the agency’s recommendations have potential ramifications for all of the wind projects in the Mid-Columbia and beyond.

In her report, Gilbert stated that USFWS studies for Summit Ridge detected the presence of 12 golden eagles and four inactive large stick nests believed to have been used by the federally-protected species. She said the nests were located within 1,000 to 10,000 feet from where turbines would be placed.

According to the agency, four bald eagles were also observed in the area where turbines would be located.

“In the absence of clear solutions to address golden eagle mortalities at wind energy projects, to enhance populations through conservation measures, or to off-set losses in other ways, our best efforts should be directed at avoidance of mortalities by siting wind turbines well away from the areas where resident and migrating eagles are known to concentrate their activities,” wrote Gilbert.

USFWS recommends that LotusWorks prepare an Avian and Bat Protection Plan that addresses bald and golden eagles, other migratory bird species of concern, and bats.

“That plan is usually developed during construction so we need to understand exactly what they are requiring here,” said Ostrowski.

He said changes in the market have already delayed the completion of the Summit Ridge project from Dec. 31, 2011 to the end of 2012. He said the company was in the final stages of negotiating the sale of power to California when government leaders changed the rules to require that wind energy be purchased from producers within the state.

“We’re now looking for a buyer for the power,” said Ostrowski.

Summit Ridge would be the first wind power project in Wasco County and is expected to provide “significantly more than $1 million” in tax revenue per year. The exact amount of revenue that would be realized by the county is still under negotiation, said Ostrowski