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Department of energy backs proposed wind farm

The Oregon Department of Energy is backing a proposed 500-megawatt wind farm in Umatilla and Morrow counties, though the project will likely be contested because of its connection to the electrical grid.

ODOE staff have recommended approving the site certificate for the Wheatridge Wind Energy Facility in a proposed order Aug. 5. If permitted, Wheatridge would add up to 292 turbines between two main areas ­— Wheatridge West, located entirely within Morrow County about seven miles northwest of Heppner, and Wheatridge East, extending into Umatilla County southwest of Echo.

The two areas would be roughly 25 miles apart, linked together by a pair of overhead 230-kilovolt power lines. Developer Jerry Rietmann, of Ione, previously said they are working out long-term leases with more than 20 landowners to build on private property.

Questions, however, still linger over a transmission line that would run electricity from the turbines to the power grid. Wheatridge intends to have the local Umatilla Electric Cooperative develop that line separate from the wind farm. As such, it was not included or considered in the project’s site certificate application.

Rietmann has said the reason for this is to create a single transmission corridor for the region that can support multiple energy projects, as opposed to each developer building their own lines criss-crossing the landscape. UEC says it is looking at a route that would run along Bombing Range Road to a substation at the Port of Morrow.

But Irene Gilbert, who works with the Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley group that has opposed large wind farms in the past, said approving a wind farm without a connection to the power grid would create a dangerous precedent. In addition, she said there are no other developments that have committed to connecting to a UEC-owned line, and no guarantee there ever will be.

“They are basically treating UEC as a subcontractor, in my mind,” Gilbert said. “That’s not how the rules work.”

Gilbert argues the transmission line needs to be included in the site certificate application to mitigate possible risk for landowners. She plans to ask the Department of Energy for a contested case hearing on the matter.

“I can’t see letting a precedent like that happen,” Gilbert said.

Only parties who commented on the draft proposed order are allowed to participate in a contested case. The deadline to request party status is Friday, Aug. 26.

The Energy Facility Siting Council has the final say on whether to grant a site certificate for the project, taking into consideration both the proposed order and contested case. If a site certificate is granted, Wheatridge will be allowed to break ground.

At 500 megawatts, Wheatridge would be the second-largest wind farm currently operating in Oregon. Shepherds Flat Wind Farm dwarfs all other developments at 845 megawatts, operating in Morrow and Gilliam counties.