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More Wind Megawatts Proposed

Mark Ohrenschall
Con.Web, September 29, 2003

91.8-MW-Capacity Wind Farm Planned for Northeastern Oregon

Oregon atate map courtesy of OGI A new wind farm is proposed in northeastern Oregon.

Alpine Power has submitted a permit application with Union County to build a 91.8-megawatt-capacity wind farm on more than 1,500 acres of rangeland about 15 miles southeast of La Grande.

The Union County Planning Commission has granted tentative conditional-use approval for the project, which the Oregon-based company plans to build in three phases of 17 turbines apiece, starting in 2004.

Alpine needs to furnish more information on the site's wildlife and bird habitat, as well as fire protection plans, before earning final approval, said county associate planner Scott Hartell. "Basically we had no opposition to this application at all," he told Con.WEB. Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife had concerns about the wind farm's potential effects on habitat, he said, but lacked detailed knowledge for an adequate review.

Alpine requested the tentative conditional-use approval so it could begin lining up financing for the project and soliciting contracts for the power output. "There's definitely a market" for this prospective wind energy, said Alpine consultant Patti Pointer.

Wind Plans

Alpine has arranged a 55-year lease agreement with a single property owner, William Ricker, to build a wind farm on 1,544 acres about two miles southeast of Union. An Alpine report prepared by Pointer described the terrain as "mostly steep and rocky with sparse vegetation and ... generally unsuitable for the production of farm crops." Livestock grazing and feed crop production are the predominant land uses. The site is primarily rolling rangeland, with a few small hay meadows, according to Hartell.

Three single-family homes and two manufactured homes lie within a mile of the site's boundary, but because of the topography, "the wind turbines will not be readily visible to the residences in the vicinity," the Alpine report said. Nearby property owners support the proposed wind farm, according to the company, and no agriculturally productive land would be rendered unusable. "The turbine sites are far removed from any areas that are traversed by the public or impacted by farming practices," the report said.

The site features estimated average wind speeds of 16 mph to 20 mph and transmission lines less than a mile distant, the company report said.

Alpine anticipates a three-phase construction, each phase covering 17 turbines, ranging in capacity from 660 kilowatts to 1.8 megawatts apiece, and placed according to specific wind resources on the site. Turbines would stand a maximum of 120 feet high. Power generated would flow through buried cables to nearby overhead transmission lines.

Phase one would cost an estimated $23 million, Pointer said, including six miles of new roads and upgrades on nearly two miles of an existing county road.

Alpine hopes to start building roads next spring and begin generating power from the first 17 turbines by late 2004, Pointer said.

Local Reaction, Issues

Alpine's wind farm proposal has generated local interest but no noticeable opposition, Hartell said--"There's no red flags flying up." Pointer described local reaction as "pretty good ... I think people are pretty much in favor of this green energy. This has been a good area. [The site] is so isolated. You just can't see it anywhere."

Union County planning staff will review Alpine's submittals on wildlife, birds and fire protection, Hartell said. "If staff deems they met their burden of tentative approval, we can go ahead and grant them final approval ... basically give them the go-ahead to begin their project." Otherwise, staff can send the case back to the planning commission, he said. Any appeals of the planning-level decision would be considered by the county commissioners.

Hartell said several other wind developers have shown interest in Union County, but none have filed project applications.

by Mark Ohrenschall
Cassandra Sweet contributed to this article
More Wind Megawatts Proposed
Con.Web - September 29, 2003

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