The Summit Ridge Wind Farm, an approved but as yet unbuilt wind energy generation facility proposed near the Deschutes River, is in limbo.
The proposed facility, owned by Pattern Energy, is awaiting a decision regarding their request to extend the construction deadline due to a contested case filed by Friends of the Columbia Gorge and several other organizations. The case was presented to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council on May 17.
“This is the most controversial wind energy project currently being reviewed in the State of Oregon,” said Nathan Baker, senior staff attorney for Friends of the Gorge. “It will harm scenic views and kill eagles and other raptors. The project will violate Wasco County laws as well as state and federal laws that protect eagles, migratory birds and other wildlife”
Summit Ri.dge was initially approved for construction in 2011 but, due to the lack of a power purchaser, has remained unbuilt. Pattern has proposed selling power from the project to Puget Sound Energy; should the project be accepted by PSE, Pattern would have secured a power purchaser, the main factor prohibiting them from breaking ground on the wind farm. Until then, all interested parties remain in wait. The construction deadline has been extended twice, with a third request being filed on Aug. 17, 2018, that would extend the beginning of construction deadline to Aug. 19, 2020, and the completion deadline to Aug. 19, 2023.
The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) conducted a public hearing on the matter on Feb. 22, 2019 at the Discovery Center in The Dalles. In April, the Oregon Department of Energy, (ODOE) then issued a proposed order on the request to extend the construction deadlines, as well as a notice of an opportunity to request a contested case.
ODOE’s proposed order touches on all aspects of Summit Ridge, including the potential impacts the project would have on wildlife habitat and other natural resources. Because the project is located in Wasco County, county ordinances regarding the protection of said habitats and resources must be abided by.
County ordinance 19.030.C.5 requires the project developers to ensure that “the energy facility will not cause significant adverse impact to important or significant natural resources identified in … any jurisdictional wildlife agency resource management plan adopted and in effect on the date the application is submitted” and to “implement monitoring and mitigation actions that Wasco County determines appropriate after consultation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, or other jurisdictional wildlife or natural resource agency.” The language of the ordinance specifies the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other jurisdictional wildlife or natural resource agencies, suggesting a distinction between the two.
In the Proposed Order, the Department of Energy states: “The Council has historically interpreted the reference to ‘other jurisdictional wildlife agency’ in WCLUDO Section 19.030.C.5 to apply to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), as the state wildlife agency. The Department recommends Council not consider that the reference to ‘other jurisdictional wildlife agency’ be intended to apply or incorporate requirements and resources protected by federal jurisdictional wildlife agencies.” In short, ODOE recommends the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council consider the phrase “other jurisdictional wildlife agency” to refer only to ODFW, despite the fact that the ordinance already expressly specified ODFW prior to the aforementioned language.
In response to an email that summarized this interpretation of law, Max Woods, a senior policy advisor for ODOE, stated: “We stand by our proposed order. As is also noted in the proposed order, the developer must comply with applicable federal laws, including federal laws for protection of wildlife species, but that is the jurisdiction of the federal government. Neither the USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) nor any other federal government agency commented on Summit Ridge Amendment 4.”
The USFWS did submit comment to the EFSC and ODOE regarding Summit Ridge, specifically its impact on federally protected wildlife species, back at the project’s inception. An 2010 Chronicle article, dated September 24, 2010, quoted USFWS field supervisor Nancy Gilbert, who stated: “The service believes the project, including all turbines, transmission and roads, and associated facilities, has the potential to result in injury and mortality of individual eagles and potential loss of nest sites over the life of the project.”
The USFWS also recommended in a letter to ODOE that wind turbines in Wasco County be sited no closer than six miles from a golden eagle nest; at the time, 12 golden eagles were spotted in the area where Summit Ridge turbines would be located.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states in its report on the golden eagle species that “Resident birds continue adding nest material year-round, reusing the same nest for multiple seasons and sometimes alternating between two nests.” The same report later states that “Most recorded deaths are from collisions with vehicles, wind turbines, and other structures or from electrocution at power poles.”
An EFSC motion to allow the contested case requested by Friends failed by 5-2 vote, with the two dissenting votes coming from Chairman Barry Beyeler and member Ann Gravatt. During the council’s deliberations, Gravatt commented on the immense amount of public interest that the project had generated, and expressed her frustration with Pattern Energy for their lack of involvement in the review process.
A second motion made by the council, approved in a 6-1 vote, instructed ODOE to revise the proposed order in specific ways. The revised order has not yet been released by ODOE staff. The lone dissenting vote came from Gravatt, who saw the motion as an ineffective attempt to compromise on whether a contested case should be held. One of the amendments requested in EFSC’s second motion called for updated habitat surveys, which, according to the interested conservation organizations, will likely not satisfy their concerns.
“The Siting Council is now considering whether to require limited future updates to wildlife habitat surveys, instead of requiring that information now,” said Baker, the Friends’ attorney. “Pattern is required to demonstrate that this project complies with the applicable laws before the Council makes its final decision, not after. In addition, the Department of Energy’s extremely narrow position that the applicable laws only protect habitat, and not the birds and bats themselves, is unlawful and must be rejected.”
The majority of wildlife surveys provided on behalf of the Summit Ridge Project are from 10 years ago.
While the decision to extend Pattern Energy’s construction deadlines remains in limbo, an automatic extension remains in place; since August 2018, the construction start deadline is being extended on a daily basis pursuant to EFSC’s rules as Pattern’s application is reviewed by the state.
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