Umatilla County Commissioners agreed with the planning commission Monday and denied a permit for an 11-mile power line connecting a proposed wind farm between Milton-Freewater and Athena with the regional power grid.
WKN Chopin plans a 69-kilovolt power line in conjuction with its proposed 99-megawatt, 33-turbine wind farm.
The Umatilla County Planning Commission denied a permit for the power line Nov. 17, stating WKN should look for alternatives to an entirely new transmission line. WKN appealed that decision Dec. 6 and the board of commissioners, 2-0, denied its appeal Monday.
Commissioner Bill Hansell recused himself from the hearing, citing a perception of a conflict of interest.
The county already has approved a permit to build the wind farm.
Commissioners Dennis Doherty and Larry Givens said they believed WKN could have tapped into any of three power lines already in the area of the proposed wind farm.
“I don’t believe that Chopin made a good case,” Givens said. “There are too many instances where I don’t think you’ve done the due diligence checking out what the alternatives are and what the possibilities are here.”
Doherty said the best option is a line is owned by Umatilla Electric Cooperative, based in Hermiston, extending 20 miles along Highway 204, the Tollgate Highway.
According to WKN and Umatilla Electric officials, two miles of new line would have to be added, and the existing line upgraded to carry electricity from the WKN Chopin wind farm. Umatilla Electric spokesman Nate Rivera said a feasibility is needed to determine the cost and extent of those upgrades.
Attorneys for WKN Chopin argued that a new line would incorporate rights of way along roads and have the least impact to farmland. They argued upgrading the Umatilla Electric line would adversely affect the views from Highway 204.
Commissioners said they wanted to avoid adding to the number of power lines already strewn across the county.
Planning Director Tamra Mabbott said she believed the laws guiding placement of power lines predated renewable energy. They were written assuming only a regulated public utility, a cooperative or a municipality would build power lines. It does not reflect the proliferation of private companies building many lines for wind farms, she said.
“The law may be dated, but the law is what it is,” she said.
The proposed WKN route ran along Steen Road, Blue Mountain Station Road, Couse Creek Road and Kinnear Road. At the hearing, three people who live along those roads described them as steep and narrow. They said power lines lie along one side of some roads. Winter weather makes driving difficult on some roads and farm traffic causes congestion in the summer, they said.
Doherty said he was not sure the proposed route was even doable, given those issues.
Attorney Steve Corey of Pendleton, representing WKN, said after the meeting the company does not yet know its next step.
County Counsel Doug Olsen said county staff will prepare a written order. Afterward WKN may appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.
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