Umatilla County says developer is trying to “game the system” with its proposed 500-megawatt wind farm.
Umatilla County is asking the Oregon Department of Energy to reject a 500-megawatt wind farm partially located south of Echo until the project developer makes it clear how turbines will connect onto the local power grid.
A preliminary application for the proposed Wheatridge Wind Energy Facility was submitted Dec. 19, 2014, to the Energy Facility Siting Council, but does not specify where transmission lines would be located to move the juice.
That has local farmers concerned about potential impacts to their operations should the lines cross over their fields, said county Planning Director Tamra Mabbott. While the county is not opposed to wind energy, she questioned at what point the developer – Ione-based Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC – plans to involve those underlying land owners in the planning process.
“I think the developer is trying to game the system,” Mabbott said.
A notice of intent for the Wheatridge wind farm was initially filed with the state in February 2013. The project calls for up to 292 turbines on 50,000 acres of private land in both Umatilla and Morrow counties.
The majority of the project area, named Wheatridge West, would be located north of Heppner and south of the Boardman Bombing Range in Morrow County. Wheatridge East, meanwhile, would stretch north into Umatilla County along the east side of Highway 207. A narrow 35-mile corridor would connect the two main areas.
What’s unclear is how, and where, the wind farm would connect on the Bonneville Power Administration transmission system. According to the project’s site certificate application, Wheatridge intends to use 230-kilovolt transmission lines that would either be owned by the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, or by UEC in partnership with the Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative.
The specific location of lines, however, is not yet known, and two electric substations mentioned as likely possibilities – one near Stanfield, and another at the Port of Morrow – have not yet been built.
Mabbott said the county would never approve such a large wind farm without a transmission line, and doesn’t believe the state should either. It is ultimately up to the Energy Facility Siting Council to grant a site certificate for Wheatridge.
“The landowners we’ve talked to have not been notified by the EFSC or the developer,” Mabbott said. “We think the transmission line should be part of this project, so that everybody involved can have a voice.”
A phone number provided for Andrew O’Connell, president of Wheatridge Wind Energy, has been disconnected. Robert Friedel, listed as permitting project manager with Tetra Tech of Portland, did not return messages seeking comment.
Bob Levy, of Windy River Farms in Stanfield, said the proposal has left communities uncertain exactly how they might be impacted. Depending on the route of transmission lines, they could interrupt irrigation practices or take some agricultural land out of production.
At the same time, Levy said there could be zero impact. But until Wheatridge provides notice how they plan to get power to the grid, Levy argued the application should be considered incomplete.
For the state’s purposes, an energy facility can be defined as either a wind farm with a minimum capacity of 35 megawatts or a high-voltage transmission system that runs at least 10 miles with a capacity of 230 kilovolts.
Siting analyst Andrea Goodwin, with the Department of Energy, said she could not say whether Wheatridge will apply for its wind farm and transmission system separately. All the council does is review applications as they are presented, she said, and ensure they comply with Oregon statues: among them rules on noise, wetlands and pollution controls.
The DOE is accepting comments for Wheatridge from review agencies, including local governments, until Feb. 9. Mabbott is in the process of drafting Umatilla County’s comments, and said she hopes the state will defer to the county’s belief the project must have a transmission plan already in place.
“We also hope the transmission line follows existing corridors and minimizes impacts to existing farmhouses and farmland as much as possible,” Mabbott said.
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