Clatsop County’s comprehensive plan in 1980 included a goal to promote energy conservation and the development of renewables.
“Power systems which utilize solar and wind generated energy are well-suited for the northeast county and shall be encouraged to locate here,” the plan stated.
Forty years later, a global wind energy company is exploring a project in the hills above the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill.
WPD Wind Projects, the onshore wind development arm of German company WPD Group, signed a 45-year wind energy lease with Georgia-based Forest Investment Associates. The firm manages investments on timberlands for corporate pensions, government retirement systems, endowments, foundations and family offices.
The lease to WPD covers about 3,600 acres of timberland south of the Bradley State Scenic Viewpoint on U.S. Highway 30, where a plateau drops off into hills and agricultural land along the Columbia River to the east. It gives WPD exclusive rights to generate wind energy on the property and includes a 20-year lease extension that could take the company’s presence there through 2085.
“It’s still very early,” said Jeffrey Wagner, director of Portland-based WPD Wind Projects Inc. “We have yet to measure the wind resource on the site, but we plan to get that underway, and then continue evaluating whether it’s feasible to do a project.”
Successful projects are about available wind and proximity to transmission lines, which can cost $1 million per mile to build, said Todd Cornett, secretary for the state Energy Facility Siting Council overseeing placement of large renewable projects.
Oregon ranks in the top 10 in wind generation, with more than 3,000 megawatts of capacity. As of last year, there were 34 wind projects of 10 megawatts or greater and another 10 facilities under 10 megawatts.
“The majority of the wind projects – maybe all of the wind projects – are in the mid-Columbia plateau,” Cornett said. “That’s where there’s a good wind resource, and that’s where the Bonneville Power Administration’s grid is.”
The county’s comprehensive plan found several suitable sites for wind power, including Wickiup Ridge just west of WPD’s lease. The lease is also in close proximity to Bonneville Power Administration transmission lines bringing electricity to the North Coast and the Wauna Mill, the county’s largest single electricity consumer.
The North Coast has been a proving ground for potential offshore wind and wave energy technologies. But WPD’s project could be the first land-based wind project along the Columbia River west of the Columbia River Gorge. WPD is also developing a 750-megawatt wind farm on 40,000 acres of dry agricultural land along the river in Benton County, Washington, near Hermiston.
As of next year, wind projects rated for more than 150 megawatts will be subject to state jurisdiction. Those below would fall under county review. Either route results in a robust conditional use permit process with reviews of the wind turbines and the site’s geology, archaelogy, wildlife habitat, endangered species and other factors.
Cornett said there is a 150-day clock to get to a local land use decision once the application is deemed complete.
Even if there is sufficient wind and infrastructure to make a project near the Wauna Mill feasible, Wagner cautioned not to expect anything soon.
“It’s years,” he said of developing wind projects. “It’s not unheard of for a project to take 10 years or more.”