The Oregon Department of Energy has recommended approving the site certificate for a proposed 500-megawatt wind farm in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC wants to build up to 292 turbines between two main project areas, known as Wheatridge East and Wheatridge West. Wheatridge West would be located entirely within Morrow County about seven miles northwest of Heppner, while Wheatridge East would be 16 miles northwest of Heppner and extend into Umatilla County. The two areas would be 25 miles away from each other, connected by a pair of 230-kilovolt overhead power lines.
Before that can happen, the project must be approved by the state Energy Facility Siting Council, which has jurisdiction on wind developments greater than 105 megawatts. ODOE staff recommended approving Wheatridge in a draft proposed order issued April 27, and the siting council held its first public hearing May 19 at Boardman City Hall.
More than 50 people packed inside the city council chambers, though just a handful spoke on the record. Dana Heideman, of Ione, said he owns property within the neighboring Shepherds Flat Wind Farm and would support adding Wheatridge to the region.
“It’s good for the economy in our area,” Heideman said. “In the long run, I feel it’s well worth the while.”
Lois Duvall, of Lake Oswego, said she wants to see more wind power to help wean the state off fossil fuels. But not everyone who spoke was in favor. Irene Gilbert, of La Grande, took issue with the project’s design, saying Wheatridge East and Wheatridge West ought to be treated separately in the permitting process.
“They function independently of one another,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert also criticized the developer’s plans to have a third party – specifically, Umatilla Electric Cooperative – construct and own the transmission lines that Wheatridge would use to connect onto the energy grid. Currently, UEC is looking into a route that would run 230-kilovolt lines up Bombing Range Road to a substation at the Port of Morrow.
In a letter sent May 13 to UEC, Gilbert questioned what ratepayers are getting in return for building the line, and who would use them if Wheatridge stalls.
“Either you plan to build this line and the plans are not being influenced by Wheatridge, or these lines need to be included in the site certificate evaluation,” Gilbert wrote.
UEC spokesman Steve Meyers said the co-op is looking into building a transmission corridor not only for Wheatridge, but that could serve other projects as well, including Idaho Power’s Boardman to Hemingway proposal. No final decisions have been made, and Meyers said they are continuing to talk with property owners who might be affected.
Another route had been considered in Umatilla County, though Meyers said that is no longer in the discussion. Umatilla County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott said they were concerned about transmission permitted separately from the development itself, and how that might impact local farms.
Wheatridge CEO Jerry Rietmann said a single transmission corridor, carefully chosen by a local utility such as UEC, would be better for the area than having multiple transmission lines for multiple projects criss-crossing the landscape.
Rietmann said they have confidence in UEC coming up with the best possible plan for transmission, and not forcing a path where it doesn’t belong.
“I think we’re going to go where folks want us to go,” Rietmann told the East Oregonian. “That will be driven by the market.”
Wheatridge Wind Energy initially submitted its application with ODOE in 2013. With the department’s analysis in the draft proposed order, Rietmann said he is confident they will be able to satisfy the state’s requirements moving forward.
“I think we’ve addressed those concerns through the process,” he said.
If permitted, Wheatridge would be built on more than 13,000 acres of private land. Rietmann said they are negotiating long-term leases with more than 20 landowners for the turbines. The Energy Facility Siting Council will hold a second public hearing on Monday, June 6 before making its decision. If the proposed order is not contested, ODOE will issue a final order and site certificate that will allow Wheatridge to break ground.
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