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An enormous 500MW wind farm could soon grace the fields of Eastern Oregon

Morrow and Umatilla counties could be the home to what would be one of Oregon’s largest single wind farms if the plan is approved by state energy regulators.

Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC’s 500-megawatt project is in the midst of review by the state Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC), the agency charged with authorizing large power projects.

If approved, the company would construct 292 wind turbines on wheat-farming land outside Ione in Morrow County and a portion of Umatilla County.

In late April, the Oregon Department of Energy issued a draft order on the company’s application, recommending EFSC approve the application and grant the site certificate.

Wheatridge CEO Jerry Rietmann is a fourth-generation wheat farmer in Ione. He said hundreds of jobs would be created by construction, and 35 to 40 permanent jobs would serve the site in offices and on maintenance crews. That’s important because the fate of the Boardman coal plant, slated to stop burning coal in 2020, is unclear. That plant, Rietmann said, provides much of the local tax base and high-paying jobs in the community.

“I wanted to figure out a way to do renewable here and hopefully create some new job openings and keep a tax base so our little towns can keep on going,” Rietmann said. “A 500-megawatt wind farm can’t replace the jobs the coal plant was creating, but will help offset them. In the interim there would be a huge amount of construction work for local contractors.”

Not everyone in the area was thrilled about the project. Last year, Umatilla County commissioners opposed the plan because details about where transmission lines would be built were unclear. But now, the county has an agreement with the project developers saying that, despite a small portion of turbines being located there, no transmission lines would cross county lines, said George Murdock, who chairs the commissioners board.