the film
Economic and dam related articles

State Seal of Approval

Mark Ohrenschall
Con.Web, June 26, 2003

Stateline Wind Energy Center Gets Oregon Approval for 184-MW-Capacity Expansion

Stateline Wind Energy Center has gained Oregon state approval for a nearly two-thirds expansion in its capacity, but developer FPL Energy has no immediate plans to start raising new turbines. Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council on June 6 approved an additional 184 megawatts of capacity at Stateline, which now can spin out slightly less than 300 MW. EFSC gave FPL Energy two years to begin construction of this expansion phase, and set a completion deadline of Dec. 31, 2005.

"We are looking for customers right now" for this additional wind power capacity, FPL’s Anne Walsh told Con.WEB. Permitting is "part of the development phase of the project. You’ve got to have that initially" before signing up power purchasers, she said.

FPL has no specific timetable for putting up the additional 279 660-kilowatt-capacity turbines, she said. "You need to know you can get your permits, and so now that we have that, now we’ll continue working on the project."

EFSC endorsed the expansion even though it will encroach on prime habitat of the Washington ground squirrel, an Oregon endangered species. The Council decided the overall benefits from additional wind power exceeded potential harm to the squirrels, as EFSC can do under its so-called balancing authority, according to John White of the Oregon Office of Energy. Council members "weren’t particularly comfortable" in coming to that conclusion, he said, "but they ultimately did, based largely on the efforts by FPL to minimize the area of direct impact." The developer established a conservation easement around the proposed turbines.

This Stateline expansion also encountered an issue raised by the developer of adjacent Combine Hills Turbine Ranch. Eurus Oregon Wind Power Development argued that some proposed Stateline turbines would disrupt the wind flow to several planned turbines at Combine Hills, and it asked the Council for a contested case proceeding. However, Eurus and FPL Energy reached a confidential agreement before the June 6 Council meeting.

Stateline Expansion
Described by the American Wind Energy Association as the world’s largest land-based wind plant, at 299.6 MW capacity, Stateline is now allowed to grow by 279 turbines in Oregon. This represents about 184 MW of additional capacity; FPL plans to use the same Vestas V-47 660-KW-capacity turbine models now snaking across the Oregon-Washington border southwest of Walla Walla.

FPL expects to build three new clusters of turbine strings, the largest--179 turbines in 14 strings--situated east of the Vansycle Ridge Wind Farm. Expansion plans also include a new substation, a new 8.5-mile transmission line, 30.5 miles of new underground collector cables, 17 miles of new above-ground collector cables, and 21.5 miles of new access roads, according to EFSC’s final order. The entire expansion would occur on private land, with the new permanent structures occupying about 75 acres.

Although EFSC’s siting process does not involve any power purchasing arrangements, White said "in practice, the developer needs both a site certificate and a power purchase agreement before they can actually begin construction."

FPL’s Walsh said her company remains bullish on the wind energy market. "We are growing our wind energy generation. We have a number of projects under construction right now," she said. The company’s Web site said it has 28 wind farms in 10 states, with total capacity of nearly 2,900 MW, and announced plans for more than 430 additional megawatts in 2003. It bills itself as the largest U.S. generator of wind power.

Squirrel Situation
A key issue for EFSC in considering Stateline’s expansion was the potential effect on Washington ground squirrels, an Oregon endangered species observed in the vicinity of the proposed turbines. FPL initially dropped 27 turbines from its original Stateline plans because of the squirrels, White said.

The expansion site includes prime Category 1 habitat for Washington ground squirrels, as determined by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and adopted by EFSC, White said. This designation prohibits any impact on such habitat. However, White said, EFSC has so-called balancing authority "to allow an exception to a Council standard if the Council finds the overall public benefits outweigh the harm to the resource protected by the standard."

He said Council members agreed to use this authority for the first time in a site certification application or amendment, after FPL arranged a 400-acre conservation easement. "The conservation easement actually surrounds the turbines, and so it takes into its scope most of the known squirrel colony, based on 2002 observations," White said. The Council ultimately decided the expansion would create "a relatively small direct impact on the habitat in question, compared to a fairly large area that will be protected from any use by the landowner beyond the kind of current or historical grazing level."

EFSC’s approval order includes a resource impact avoidance and mitigation plan, with the express goal "to achieve a net benefit to the Washington ground squirrel." It contains provisions to avoid habitat impacts during construction, conserve habitat, monitor squirrels, inventory additional habitat and support research.

Wind Dispute
The planned expansion also was subject to a wind dispute initiated by Eurus Oregon Wind Power Development, developer of the nearby Combine Hills Turbine Ranch.

Eurus claimed some new Stateline turbines would create a turbulence wake affecting three or four Combine Hills turbines downwind, effectively diminishing the project’s capacity by 3 MW to 10 MW, out of a planned 104 MW total capacity.

Eurus asked EFSC for a contested case proceeding, but withdrew the request after reaching an agreement with FPL before the June 6 Council meeting. Terms of the agreement are confidential, according to White and Walsh.

In April 25 written comments to EFSC, Eurus attorney James Benedict outlined the company’s position on Stateline expansion: "Unless modified, the [proposed Stateline expansion] would rob the already-permitted Eurus Project of wind, precluding the construction of certain turbines included in the Eurus Project and seriously undermining the project. Allowing such a conflict would violate or be inconsistent with several of the approval criteria applicable here. More fundamentally, robbing the Eurus Project of wind would seriously undermine the policy to encourage wind energy projects by making significant projects virtually impossible to finance and develop." He asked for a contested case, followed by denial of the proposed expansion or conditions to eliminate wind conflicts.

Benedict wrote that disrupting wind to Combine Hills would go against various land-use standards and EFSC regulations, as well as state energy policy encouraging renewables development. He alleged it would violate Eurus’ property use rights. It would also infringe on the company’s rights to the wind, analogous to state water rights allocations. And it would represent an unconstitutional "taking" of property under the Oregon and U.S. constitutions, according to Eurus.

Although EFSC never ruled on this dispute, separate memos by state assistant attorney general Janet Prewitt and White cast doubts on Eurus’ position.

"Eurus wants the Council to allocate the wind resource and declare a new property right," wrote Prewitt. However, "The Council’s current rules do not address either allocation of resources or competition among potential developers. In fact, the stated legislative policy points the other way." She also found no Oregon law "directly addressing the existence of a wind access right ... absent a covenant or other contractual right."

White wrote that EFSC has no standard to protect competing economic interests of wind developers. He also concluded the Stateline expansion would not violate Council wind siting standards or state energy policy, nor is it EFSC’s role to "create a new legal precedent for Constitutional claims against the state of Oregon." OOE recommended against a contested case proceeding, and in favor of the expansion request, with conditions."

Mark Ohrenschall
State Seal of Approval
Con.Web - June 26, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation