In front of a crowded room at the Umatilla County Courthouse Thursday, Cindy Severe held up a map of the soon-to-be Helix Wind Power Facility.
“My home is R13 on this map,” she said. “What the map doesn’t show is that on the opposite ridge are 26 wind turbines. With this new addition going in, we will probably be surrounded by 100 to 134 big towers. This is something that, as a landowner, has been pretty difficult to swallow.”
Severe implored the Umatilla County Commission to consider “the silent majority” of landowners who live near wind projects. They may refuse the developers’ ever-increasing offers of money for a noise easement but in the end the turbines come anyway, only a bit farther away.
“Our property values are impacted, our daily lives are impacted… and that’s not even to bring up the noise,” she said. “It is a nightmare. And as a normal, average citizen, who do we turn to?”
Severe was among those who testified in favor the county’s proposed changes to rules that govern the siting of wind projects. Most proposed changes are minor and don’t stray far from how the state approves wind projects – the Energy Facility Siting Council approves wind developments greater than 105 megawatts – but they include a rule that developers must not place a turbine closer than two miles from a rural home unless it secures a waiver from the landowner.
FSEC has a quarter mile standard. But it takes county rules into consideration when citing wind projects, and may use a two-mile setback in Umatilla County.
However, because of an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality rule that wind projects generate no more than 36 adjusted decibels of noise at nearby homes – unless the owners sign a noise easement – turbines often end up farther away. But not quite two miles.
The Umatilla Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the changes Feb. 24. The final step is for county commissioners to approve them.
“The intent was to empower people within two miles to be a player in the game, to have a say in what happens to their property,” Planning Commissioner Clinton Reeder told the commission.
Reeder arrived at the meeting armed to support the revised rules. He held up books on the effects of sleep deprivation – one affect of living close to a wind turbine, some say – and brandished his own fingertip oxygen meter, explaining that sleep deprivation reduces the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. He also spoke of children with autism, who are among those particularly sensitive to the vibrations wind turbines emit.
“You can’t tell me the effects of wind towers can be ignored – they can’t,” he said.
Reeder also decried wind projects’ effect on communities.
“We have neighbors of this Helix project that don’t talk to each other now,” he said. “I’m telling you, that’s destructive.”
But Reeder was up against powerful forces. Lawyers representing wind companies and a handful of landowners called the changes unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.
“There is no adequate factual basis to support the proposed setback of two miles from a ‘rural home,’” wrote Wendy Kellington, a lawyer for Cunningham Sheep Company, which has leases with wind developers. Although the rationale for the setbacks is to protect wind projects’ neighbors, there “is and can be no evidence that the proposed setbacks are within any reasonable range to achieve the stated objective,” she said. Kellington attached a study that concluded wind turbine-produced sound, at a distance of 350 meters, is similar to background noise in a typical home.
“The proposed setbacks are, respectfully, simply a way of attempting to prevent wind energy development in Umatilla County,” she wrote, “and this, the county, is not permitted to do (that).”
At least two representatives from wind companies testified the setback rule would shut down planned projects in Umatilla County.
Bob Levy, representing Cunningham Sheep Company, passed around a map of 65,000 acres north of Pendleton. Around each residence was a circle two miles out; the circles filled the map, illustrating how difficult it would be to site a wind farm in the area.
“There are areas that need to be protected,” Levy said, “but this certainly seems to be a burdensome and over-reaching proposal.”
But those who supported the proposed rules seemed to outnumber those who didn’t. Several residents, the Blue Mountain Alliance, the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council and the city of Milton-Freewater are in favor of them, as is the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The tribes feel the new standards “strike an important balance needed to allow development while preserving our natural and cultural resources,” said Leo Stewart, the vice-chairman of the board of trustees.
The mayor of Pendleton, Phillip Houk, said the city supports the recommendation that no turbines be sited within two miles of the city’s urban growth boundary. However, he wrote, “the city is concerned that if the two mile from a resident is enforced, it may stifle any opportunity for wind power facilities in Umatilla County.”
The county commission plans to hold a workshop and a hearing before making a decision on the new rules. The date and time of those meetings are not yet set.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding