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Audubon and ONDA Team Up

Audubon and ONDA Team Up to Fight Steens Mountain Wind Project

Both Audubon Society of Portland and Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) are strong supporters of renewable energy development including wind power. It is critical that the United States wean itself from climate changing fossil fuels and the development of renewable energy sources in Oregon will drive our green economy. However not all renewable energy projects are green. There are energy speculators willing to game the system and take advantage of the state’s strong renewable energy mandates. In the coming years, the spread of wind farms will radically transform significant portions of terrestrial landscape---often overlapping with our most sensitive wildlife areas. Although we must move quickly, we must also move carefully and thoughtfully.

Columbia Energy Partners proposed wind projects in Harney County immediately adjacent to Steen’s Mountain represent exactly the kind of renewable energy speculation our state does not need. We want to be clear here---we are not at this point saying the project is necessarily good or bad---we simply do not know because the fly by night process has deliberately skirted state oversight and the application to the county provided absolutely no information about potential impacts on the environment or the spectacular and unique viewsheds surrounding one of Oregon’s greatest environmental treasures. What we do know is that the Steens Mountain area is one of the most important wildlife areas in our state and that poorly sited wind farms can have tremendous impacts on wildlife.

The actions of Columbia Energy Partners are outrageous and far below industry standards. They have already permitted one facility and propose to build three more in close proximity to one another and Steens Mountain in Harney County, all at just under the 105 megawatt threshold that triggers review of the State Energy Facilities Siting Council (EFSC).  Two of the proposed 104 megawatt facilities sit literally side by side. By subdividing the facilities, Columbia Energy Partners certainly ignores the spirit and we would argue the letter of the law which was designed to ensure that large projects are constructed in a responsible manner. The County has virtually no resources to evaluate such a project and also serves as a direct financial beneficiary of the proposed developments. Columbia Wind Energy’s strategy paid off---an application that surely would have been tossed out as woefully incomplete by EFSC was rubber stamped by the county in August with virtually zero public or state environment involvement. The application provided a token line about visual impacts potentially being “controversial” and not a single word about potential wildlife impacts. The danger of such a irresponsible approach is real---once these facilities are built, they have proven very difficult to modify and almost impossible to remove. The Altamont Wind Pass facility decades after its construction still kills upwards of 2000 birds of prey every year despite the ongoing efforts of the environmental community to force changes.

What are we looking for? We want Columbia Energy Partners to withdraw their applications and go back and do the baseline research that is the industry norm and which will allow the community to make an informed decision about the merits of the project. We also want them to submit their applications to the proper reviewing body, the State Energy Facility Siting council. If neither they or the County are willing to step up and voluntary make these changes, then the state should step in and force the issue.

At a larger scale, Audubon has been working for the past year on a State committee charged with developing “voluntary” wildlife guidelines for wind farm development in on Oregon’s Columbia Plateau. The committee includes state and federal agencies, developers and the environmental community represented by Audubon and The Nature Conservancy. Those guidelines are nearing completion and should serve as a general guide for the entire state  until more regionally specific guidelines can be developed. Industry asserts that voluntary guidelines are all that is needed because wind developers are “green” by nature. The Steens Mountain proposals demonstrate that like any industry, the wind industry includes people who will do whatever it takes to make a buck including gaming the state’s green objectives.

We believe that wind development is an important part of Oregon’s energy portfolio and we also believe that responsible wind development can occur in Harney County in a way that helps the local economies. However we need a system in place that ensures that the wind farms that are proliferating across our landscapes are constructed in an environmentally sensitive manner that considers the environmental impacts of the actual site as well as the impacts of the transmission systems that will need to be constructed to get that energy to market. Allowing irresponsible energy speculators to game the system and exploit Oregon’s green ethic and the county’s desperate need for funding is bad environment and threatens to undermine the important steps forward that have been made in Oregon building support for renewable energy resources.

Go to the following link to see an Oregonian Editorial on this issue.

Go to the following link to read an Oregonian Article on this issue.

Go to the following link to read ONDA/ Audubon comments on this project.

For more information email Bob Sallinger

 

 

 

 

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