It’s safe to say there will not be any huge wind farms coming to the Umatilla Indian Reservation in the near future.
Decision makers, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Board of Trustees, have said “no” to wind farms on tribal land.
Wind-energy companies have had their eyes on the foothills of the Blue Mountains as a potential site for wind turbines. The Natural Resources Commission has twice met without coming to consensus over the potential use of smaller renewable energy sources – solar as well as wind – to supplement a landowner’s electricity or natural gas power.
Because of that stalemate, members of the Natural Resources Commission tabled a decision, suggesting instead that they gather more information about the wind tower issue. The issue will be explained at the tribe’s general council meeting Feb. 16 but there won’t be a formal opportunity for enrolled tribal members to comment.
General Council members at the Feb. 16 meeting can express their opinions, but they likely only will echo a decision that’s already been made: No wind farms on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Matilda Hoisington, chair of the Natural Resources Commission, said any written comments submitted before the NRC meeting March 27 may be considered.
A final recommendation from NRC, expected to be made at the March meeting, will be sent on to the Board of Trustees for an up or down vote. Last year the board, following the Tribes’ energy policy, decided wind farms would not be allowed on the Reservation.
The Commission is faced with an amendment to the land-use code about wind farms.
In essence, the Natural Resources Commission is being asking to prohibit one set of wind turbines while allowing another.
“We’re being sucked into a whirlpool,” NRC member Steve Sohappy said at the first public hearing in December. “If we let one in, they’ll invade the reservation. I’m leery about that. This reservation was set aside for Indians to live on.”
On the other hand, a pair of 200-foot wind towers already up on Telephone Ridge is measuring air quality, contamination and pollution.
That, Commissioner Fred Hill said, could help commercial ventures “get their foot in the door.”
Tribal staff was there representing both sides.
Audie Huber of the Tribes’ Department of Natural Resources said there are too many unknown variables in the action being requested by the Tribes’ Planning Office. Among others, Huber said the plan includes no standards for setbacks, size, noise and viewshed impacts.
He acknowledged that technology has reduced the noise produced by the largest turbines that would be used in a wind farm, but he argued the smaller turbines, such as those he suspects would be used by individuals, still are very noisy.
The amendment would not allow a wind turbine in residential areas.
Huber said, too, that turbines disturb wildlife – not so much because of their noise, but because they require monthly maintenance in elk winter range.
Ted Repasky from the Department of Science and Engineering, the department responsible for the wind-measuring towers, didn’t necessarily endorse wind farms, but he didn’t discount their value either.
Tribal energy policy, Repasky reminded the commission, calls for measures that would enable the tribes to become energy independent.
A single, large wind turbine like those installed by PGE in Biglow Canyon, would provide enough electricity to power 200-250 homes on the Reservation.
He said the power produced by wind would be cleaner and safer than power produced by dams or coal-fired plants.
Repasky said the amendment removing wind farms from land-use definitions would “limit energy independence.”
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