The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and EDP Renewables have hammered out their major differences in the proposed siting of the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm, according to a joint announcement made Monday.
The ODFW and EDP said they have resolved the issues ODFW raised when Horizon applied for a site certificate for the controversial wind power project near Union.
In a release posted on the ODFW website, ODFW and EDP said they have come up with a series of plans “designed to avoid, minimize and mitigate” wildlife impacts.
“This agreement strikes a balance between protecting Oregon’s natural resources and allowing sustainable economic development, which is so important to our state,” said Roy Elicker, ODFW director.
In December 2010, Horizon Wind Energy – which was then a subsidiary of EDP – completed its application for a site certificate to construct the Antelope Ridge facility on private lands in the Craig Mountain area near Union.
The plans call for the building of up to 164 turbines with the potential for generating up to 300 megawatts of electricity. The proposal ignited a bitter local controversy that continues today.
ODFW did a detailed review of the application, and in March said it couldn’t recommend approval until potential impacts were adequately addressed.
The agency raised a host of issues, including threats to raptor and non-raptor bird populations, bat mortality and the possible displacement of mule deer and elk populations.
The wildlife agency and EDP entered into a mediation process set up by Gov. John Kitzhaber. According to this week’s announcement, plans formulated during mediation will now go to the state Energy Facility Siting Council for review.
Bruce Eddy, ODFW’s Northeast Region manager, said this week it’s important to remember that the agency was never out to stop the project.
“We never said ‘You can’t build it.’ We said this is Category II habitat, and mitigation has to be proposed,” he said.
Eddy said while all the wildlife issues were discussed in mediation, the “elephant in the room” was impact on big game populations.
Earlier studies showed that at Elkhorn Valley – a wind farm opened near North Powder in 2007 – deer and elk were displaced 1,000 to 3,300 meters from tower strings.
Eddy said ODFW wasn’t satisfied with claims made about big game impacts in the application for site certificate for Antelope Ridge. He said that through mediation, EDP has agreed to do a major study on deer and elk impacts.
“They have to do a study on the impacts, and it’s not going to be a cheap study,” Eddy said.
The Energy Facility Siting Council has final say in the site certificate process. It considers its own standards and also the applicable rules of the state and local state and local agencies.
Locally, a group called Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley has put up stiff opposition to the proposed Antelope Ridge facility.
Tuesday, Dennis Wilkinson, the head of that group, said he has reviewed the plans worked out between ODFW and EDP. He said he likes what he sees, especially the fact that the project’s second phase can’t begin until the big game studies are complete.
He said he thinks the required mitigation measures may prove to be too expensive for EDP.
“With all the conditions ODFW put in there, I have to applaud them. I’ll be really amazed if EDP buys in,” Wilkinson said. “I don’t think opponents should hang their heads. This is a long way from being done.”
EDP Renewables bought Horizon Wind Energy in 2007, and Horizon assumed EDP’s name this July. Project Manager Nick Benjamin said the company has many issues to look at before deciding whether or not to move forward with Antelope Ridge.
“At this point we’re evaluating a host of things that will determine the pace of permitting with (Energy Facility Siting Council),” he said.
Benjamin said that Valerie Franklin, Antelope Ridge project manager since before the site certificate application was filed, “voluntarily” left the company a month and a half ago. Benjamin and EDP’s Suzi Asmus were then tapped as the project managers.
Andrew Young, executive vice president for EDP North America’s western region, said in Monday’s release he is grateful to Kitzhaber for bringing the parties together and helping craft a plan that is good for the environment and the economy.
“We feel this process and outcome demonstrates that renewable energy developers and wildlife agencies can collaborate productively in the state of Oregon,” Young said.
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