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Antelope Ridge wind farm withdrawn by developers

EDP Renewables North America has withdrawn its application with Oregon siting authorities to build the controversial Antelope Ridge wind farm near La Grande, citing poor market conditions.

‪The proposed 300 megawatt project comprised some 160 turbines in the rolling mountains above the Grande Ronde Valley, about 10 miles southeast of La Grande. It was highly controversial, dividing residents of Union County. A majority of Union County residents – 52 percent – voted against siting the wind farm in 2010, though the vote was only advisory. Opponents cited wildlife and other environmental concerns, coupled with the visual impact on one of Oregon’s most scenic valleys. Other residents supported the project because of potential tax revenues and employment prospects.

Sam Littlefield, EDP’s project manager for Antelope Ridge, said the withdrawal was “100 percent a business decision.” The company faced a considerable investment to proceed with its site certificate, and didn’t see a clear path to sell the power at this point.

‪”It’s a level of investment that’s not justified at this time,” Littlefield said. “There’s no active procurement in Oregon or Washington that this project would have been eligible for.”

‪The wind farm boom that Oregon was experiencing as recently as 2011 has died down because of a change in California’s rules that makes it hard to export wind power to that state, formerly the biggest customer for Northwest renewables. Utilities in the Northwest are still building, though most are in good shape to meet upcoming requirements under Oregon and Washington’s renewable energy mandates.

‪Littlefield said EDP participated in the competitive bidding process for new renewable resources that Portland General Electric completed this summer, but Antelope Ridge wasn’t selected. He said the project could come back and rejoin permitting efforts when demand recovers.

Renewable energy advocates point to the slated closure of several large coal plants in the region, and say they hope some portion of that generation can be replaced with renewable power.

Jed Farmer, chair of the Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, said his members were pleased with EDP’s decision to halt permitting on Antelope Ridge, but conscious the project could be resuscitated if the market improves or EDP sells the rights to develop the project.

“We’re not completely against wind power, but this location is unique and it didn’t make sense for it to go in here,” Farmer said. “My understanding is that it could come back, but they’d have to start from the beginning.”