Costs for wind power development is going up in Umatilla County.
Umatilla County commissioners Wednesday formalized some fee increases proposed in June. Among them is a tenfold increase for a wind power facility permit.
Commissioners Larry Givens and Dennis Doherty approved the fees with a 2-0 vote. Commissioner Bill Hansell was absent.
Wind power companies formerly paid the same conditional use permit rate as everyone else: $500.
Now the fee for “wind and other energy facilities” producing more than a megawatt is $5,000 plus $1,000 for each wind turbine.
So with a wind farm housing 50 turbines, the county could rake in $55,000.
Commissioners briefly discussed charging by the megawatt rather than per tower, but Umatilla County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott worried it would be a disincentive to keep companies working with the county.
The county sites wind farms up to 105 megawatts; anything larger is automatically sited by the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.
A wind company can choose to site through the state, where Mabbott and Umatilla County Attorney Doug Olsen said fees can run in the hundred-thousand-dollar range and up.
The impetus behind increasing the fees was to help pay for the extra work the planning department does on wind projects. However, Mabbott noted, any money the department makes in fees is sent back to the county general fund and doled out from there.
While the department does have extra work with wind development, Mabbott doubted fees from wind power companies could be enough to pay for a full-time position in itself.
The county also is increasing a yearly renewal fee, especially for commercial wind energy facilities, from $50 to $500.
The state has a similar yearly fee of $1,820 with additional costs if a Department of Energy staffer has to make a site visit to a wind farm.
The county’s $500 annual fee would go toward the work of checking on the wind company’s surety bond – the money set aside in case a company goes bust. With the bond, the county ensures the wind farm will be dismantled even without a company to do it.
Givens asked if that $500 annual fee could support an enforcement officer who could check to make sure wind companies are complying with their
Mabbott worried the amount of work wouldn’t justify a full position if it just addressed wind turbines. A better position would need to apply enforcement to all conditional use permits, not just to wind farms.
Currently, the county only looks into something if a problem is reported.
“There is quite a bit of trust involved,” she said.
Commissioners decided to approve the fee schedule. It did not include any plan for monies to go directly to the planning department or to support an additional position there. It just addressed the fee increases.
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