A proposed wind farm near Heppner could generate up to 500 megawatts of electricity, if the project’s Chicago-based developer can identify regional utilities interested in buying the power.
Invenergy LLC plans to build as many as 280 wind turbines on approximately 40,000 acres of private land about seven miles east of Heppner, based on demand. The company filed a notice of intent in 2012 with the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council, and was expected to apply for a site certificate by March 2013.
But so far, Invenergy has been unable to reach a power purchase agreement with utilities based on current market conditions – including a recent emphasis from California lawmakers favoring in-state renewable resources.
The siting council met Friday, Jan. 24 in The Dalles and unanimously granted Invenergy a one-year extension to apply for its site certificate, now due April 27, 2015. The state Department of Energy will then issue a draft proposed project order, followed by public hearing with stakeholders.
“If everything goes well, this will come down the pike within the next year,” said Cliff Voliva, DOE spokesman. “(The developer) just felt they need a little more time to turn the corner on this.”
Meanwhile, Invenergy remains confident about its prospects. The Heppner Wind Energy Facility would create more than 200 jobs during construction and 20-25 fulltime positions when finished, according to a company statement.
Turbines are estimated to range in height from 262 to 328 feet. In addition, the facility would connect onto the grid through a 230-kilovolt transmission line running 39-46 miles into Umatilla County to a proposed Bonneville Power Administration substation near Stanfield that is currently under study.
The Heppner Wind project is expected to generate several million dollars annually for local economies. Property owners can earn $5,000-$8,000 per year per turbine in lease payments, according to the National Wind Watch coalition, though the towers can impact farming operations.
Invenergy must address further environmental and community impacts for review as part of the application process. Concerns over wind development range from land and water use to effects on wildlife habitat.
Spokeswoman Alissa Krinsky did not discuss how the expired federal wind production tax credit might impact development. The credit pays 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by wind, though eligible projects had to be under construction or invested 5 percent of its cost before the credit expired Dec. 31.
Varner Seaman, policy director for Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, said they are optimistic Congress will eventually reauthorize the credit, which has historically garnered bipartisan support.
More pertinent is California’s shift in focus to in-state renewable resources, Seaman said. A law passed there in 2011 raised the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 33 percent by 2020, but included restrictions to keep more projects – along with their jobs and economic growth – closer to home.
The Northwest exports roughly 40-50 percent of its wind energy, Seaman said. That market has shrunk with fewer opportunities in California.
“We have seen some project proposals go away, and some developers who have dropped their permit applications,” Seaman said. “But there are still many of our members who have interest in the project pipeline in the Pacific Northwest, and believe the market will recover.”
An availability of existing transmission and support from local governments have continued to help wind developers in Oregon, Seaman said.
“The potential for renewables has been great, and it remains a bright spot,” he said.
A database provided by Renewable Northwest Project shows the Heppner Wind Energy Facility as one of nine projects currently in permitting across the state. Invenergy has already developed the 72-megawatt Willow Creek facility, operating in Gilliam and Morrow counties.