The developer of a proposed 500-megawatt wind farm refutes Umatilla County’s claim they are trying to “game the system” with their transmission lines.
The developer of a proposed 500-megawatt wind farm in Umatilla and Morrow counties has asked Umatilla Electric Cooperative to own the project’s transmission lines and determine the best route to avoid impacting local landowners, especially farmers.
Wheatridge Wind energy LLC wants to build up to 292 turbines on 50,000 acres of private land, though its preliminary application to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council does not address where transmission lines would be located to connect onto the power grid.
On Wednesday, Umatilla County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott said the wind farm and transmission system should be considered comprehensively under the same proposal and not treated as separate developments. She accused the Ione-based company of trying to “game the system” and leaving potentially affected landowners in the dark.
But Jerry Rietmann, who owns Wheatridge Wind Energy with his business partner, Andrew O’Connell, said they reached out to UEC because the cooperative would be more sensitive and understanding of landowner concerns, as opposed to establishing a transmission route in their site application with an unknown third party.
“I don’t think that’s gaming the system. I think that’s being transparent,” Rietmann said.
According to the wind farm’s preliminary site certificate application, Wheatridge plans to use 230-kilovolt lines connecting to one of two proposed substations in the region: one near Stanfield, or another near the Port of Morrow. The lines would be owned by UEC, possibly in partnership with the Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative based in Heppner.
UEC spokesman Steve Meyers said they are still having conversations about owning the lines. No decisions have been made about possible routes.
Wheatridge does not intend to start building turbines without the transmission plan in place, Rietmann said. In fact, he anticipates they are still another year away from obtaining state approval for the wind farm. Construction wouldn’t begin until late 2016 or early 2017.
“I don’t think anyone is asking we put a project in the ground without the transmission resolved,” Rietmann said.
Rietmann is himself a farmer in Morrow and Gilliam counties and said he understands the impacts transmission lines can have on farms. Locally owned electric cooperatives have been responsive to his concerns in the past, he said, and he is confident the Wheatridge project will be no different.
“I would like to think we are being smart developing this, and making sure we have a credible partner,” Rietmann said.
Mabbott said the county would never permit an energy facility separate of transmission. She is in the process of drafting comments to the state Department of Energy, and hopes they will defer to the county’s interpretation.
“We don’t want to support the project at the expense of landowners that will have a transmission line running over their property,” Mabbott said.
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