Central Oregon Wind Farm Generating Controversy

Renewable energy — By on January 13, 2009 at 9:00 am
623467232 b68ecdb313 m Central Oregon Wind Farm Generating Controversy

Wind Farms on the Horizon?

The Central Oregon area in which I live is gorgeous.  Snow capped mountains to the west, sparkling blue skies about 300 days a year (yes, we are lucky), Ponderosa pine trees and plenty of wildlife.  Its also frequently windy here.  A perfect place to site a wind farm, right?

Maybe not, if you believe the claims of a few environmental groups.  Wait a minute?  Aren’t environmental groups in favor of renewable energy?  Why would they be opposed to an innocuous wind farm?

The Proposal:

On a 10,000 acre ranch that covers portions of Deschutes and Crook county, the region’s first commercial wind farm may be sited.  The area is empty now, devoid of everything but a scrubby juniper trees, bitterbrush and sagebrush.  In the future, wind turbines may cover 20 acres of the ranch, on a raised, windy area known as West Butte.

The so-called West Butte Wind Power Project would be developed with as many as 50 turbines that stand between 400-575 feet tall.  Electricity generated by the 104 megawatt project could power as many as 50,000 homes (3/4 of the population of my hometown of Bend, Oregon) with clean, alternative energy.  It will also provide an additional $1 million in annual property tax revenues.

Applications for the project were submitted in December; a public hearing will likely be in Crook County next month.  Only county approval is needed for the West Butte Wind Power Project.  Projects that generate more than 105 megawatts also require approval from the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.

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A female grouse

The Opposition:

The Oregon National Desert Association is concerned that the West Butte Wind Power Project could threaten sage grouse and harm other animals.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have also commented regarding impacts to mule deer and Elk.

Brent Fenty, the executive director of Oregon National Desert Association, stated:

“Our point of view is we want to support renewable energy products.  But just because its renewable energy doesn’t mean there aren’t impacts.”

Sage grouse congregate in “leks,” and engage in elaborate courtship rituals.  The West Butte area has been designated as “irreplaceable habitat” for the sage grouse by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Sage grouse are not listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, but some are considering a listing.

The Tension:

In the coming years, we’ll see more and more conflicts between renewable energy projects, like the proposed wind farm, and alleged environmental impacts.  The overriding question is: what will hurt the environment to a greater degree?  Continuing to burn oil and gas to provide electricity, which will do nothing to slow global warming, or installation of wind, solar or geothermal projects that will provide clean, green energy?  Many people believe in alternative energy, as long as it is “not in my backyard.”

We need power.  Hydroelectric has been criticized, nuclear energy is no-go for many people, geothermal has its critics too.  Wind arguably is one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to generate energy.

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Wind turbines generate more than clean energy

Developers of wind farms have to consider and mitigate potential environmental impacts.  Just because a project will provide renewable energy does not mean it automatically gets approval.  Like any other land use proposal, it must meet zoning code standards, which may include a showing of “no net loss” to potentially impacted wildlife.  Depending on the jurisdiction, larger projects may be required to go through formal environmental review (preparation of an environmental impact statement), as well.  An unbiased hearings officer or a group of elected officials consider all the evidence presented to them on a proposal – including benefits and potential negative impacts.  And appeals may be filed to challenge an approval or denial of a wind farm project.

With respect to the West Ridge Wind Power Project, the developer states that they have spent more than a year studying its potential environmental impacts.  A number of mitigation measures are proposed to help protect sage grouse habitat.  I have read that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have commented that gas and oil exploration studies show that productivity of sage grouse leks may decrease.  Of course, there is a great difference between the potential impacts of drilling on a continuous basis for oil or gas, and the impact of free standing wind turbines, once they are installed.

The hearings officer considering the matter next month will have to decide if enough mitigation will be provided to protect sage grouse, as well as mule deer and elk that roam through the ranch.  He or she can order additional mitigation, or ultimately deny the project if the evidence shows that habitats will be impacted to an unacceptable degree.

What do you think about the controversy and the West Butte Wind Power Project?  Yes, no or need to know more?

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27 Comments

  1. Robert K says:

    Hi Stephanie, great post! Personally, I’m a pretty big proponent of wind power. It’s clean, relatively low environmental impact, and windmills are just so frickin’ cool to watch. As for your “yes, no, need to know more”, we definitely need more information… which has me wishing you had a couple of links to where we could find more data on the two sides of this issue. (Still, a great introductory piece, so thanks!)

    Will you be doing more posts on how green technology affects Central Oregon? If so I’d like to talk to you about ways to partner with BendTech, a blog I help maintain that focuses on technology issues in Central Oregon. Posts like this would be a wonderful addition. Our About page ( http://blog.bendtech.com/about/ ) provides a bit more background.

    This need not be anything elaborate or onerous – our BendTech blog has the ability to aggregate content from other blogs automatically. I could set it up so any posts you put in a designated category like “local technology” (or whatever) would automatically appear on our site.

    If this is something you’d be interested in, please contact me at robert@broofa.com .

    Cheers!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Hey Robert,

    Thank you for the comment! I would love to help out with BendTech. I am considering a follow-up post here with more information, which I will do for sure now. Links are always helpful, right? If you check out these two blogs: http://www.solarpowerpanels.ws and http://www.solarpanelspower.net, you’ll see that I also mention the Bend area with respect to solar power.

    I’ll shoot you an email. Thanks again for the comment and readership,

    Stephanie

  3. Ken Smith says:

    This situation is so typical across the country. Renewable energy opponents are organized — we need to be, too

    Time and time again, important renewable energy projects fail because of a small but well-organized opposition. It’s a lot harder to organize in support of something than it is to organize against it, but that’s just what we need to do. Without an organized base of support, community-based renewable energy projects will never get off the ground.

    Read more at http://www.buildbabybuild.net

  4. jerry osborn says:

    I AM EMPLOYED ON THE WIND FARMS LOCATED IN ARLINGTON, OREGON. IV WORKED ON THE INSTALATION OF EIGHT PROJECTS. AS FAR AS WILD LIFE PROBLEMS , I HAVE WORKED ON PROJECTS THAT HAVE HAD KERLEWS , DEER , ELK COYOTES SNAKES SQUIRLES AND NUMEROUS OTHER SMALL GAME . AS FAR AS I COULD TELL WE NEVER HAD ANY IMPACT ON WILD LIFE. , IN AREAS THAT HAD NESTING BIRDS , SQUIRLES OR DEER AND ELK BIRTHS , WE MOVED TO DIFFERENT AREAS SO AS NOT TO DISTURB THEM TILL THEY WERE DONE, I HAVE NOTED DEER , ELK AND THEIR YOUNG STAY IN THE SAME AREA AS WE WERE WORKING AND WERE STILL THERE WHEN WE WERE DONE. I HAVE NOTICED THE LARGER ANIMALS BEDDED DOWN IN THE SHADE OF THE TOWERS DURING THE HEAT OF THE DAY AND GRAZING IN THE NEWLEY RECLAIMED AREAS WITH NO ADVERSE EFFECTS. WE ARE ALWAYS EXTREAMLY CAREFUL AROUND WILDLIFE , THE COMPANEYS HAD A VERY STRINGET SAFTY POLICY IN PLACE AND ANYONE NOT ADHERING TO THAT IS REMOVED FROM THE SITE . THESE ARE VERY STRICT RULES AND EVERYONE ADHURS TO THEM OR THEY DONT WORK ON THE SITE. JUST A LITTLE INSIDE INFORMATION FOR YOU.

  5. Forex King says:

    Nice Blog Template I like the look of it definitely How To Build A Windmill.

  6. david hayre says:

    im looking for work ive worked on 3 wind farms in wyoming i built all the roads as a equment opp and i also put up the towers at glinrock witch there i was a formen i can pritty mush do anything you need to put up the farm i was a qc and a conector also toqued and even cleaned the towers for ground up i can build the towers ive built a gamasa a ge and a vestas tower and even call the parts in so i just want to now who to get a hold of for the project i live in prineville so im close and have lots of experiance so i would love to help out . my number is 541-788-1816 thank you very mush.

  7. thanks !! very helpful post!

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  9. Pettaway says:

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  10. Fecteau says:

    Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a good story. Thanks!

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  13. Kent Day says:

    I am currently enrolled in school at Northwest Renewable Energy Institute. I found this site while working on a school project. I’ve lived in Oregon my whole life and love everything about it. I know this renewable energy conflict between animals and machines will always be here and there is always two sides to every story, so I think there is more pro’s than con’s. I graduate in May of 2010 and will be exited to get into the industry as a Wind Turbine Tech. I would love to stay in Oregon and want to be apart of this project. If anyone knows how, Please let me know what I need to do, or who I need to get ahold of. Thanks jdayk@yahoo.com Wind is the Way!

  14. Jonny says:

    It is a cool tech.

  15. Dan Boone says:

    Nice article, but noted an error in an assumption you made about oil. Oregon doesn’t really use oil to generate electricity. Less than .026% of the electricity generated by power plants in OR during 2007 was produced by burning petroleum. Nationally, less than 2% of our electricity is due to oil, and about 5/6 of the quantity burned to generate electricity is comprised of the tarry residue left over from distilling gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, fuel oil, etc. from crude oil. Unfortunately, wind turbines will not appreciably reduce our dependence on oil.

    FYI, nearly 2/3 of the kilowatt-hours generated by the electric industry in OR during 2007 came from renewable energy sources – mostly hydropower. Very few other states have as small a proportion of their electricity generated from fossil fuels as OR.

    By the way, the photo in your article of a “female grouse” is not a Sage Grouse but instead appears to be a summer plumaged White-tailed Ptarmigan. It would have been helpful to include a weblink or 2 to sources of information which describe the threat which tall structures like wind turbines pose to grassland species – especially grouse.

  16. fay stein-swanson says:

    I live in Telocaset ,Elkhorn Wind Industrial area now, and I get sick all the time I stay here…when I go away I am better. They ruined our area ,farm and ranch, into an industrial wasteland.
    You watch what you do, since the 104 megawatt is an issue that the wind thieves got around the state. They have no real regulations and they have destroyed the peace and solice we had at home. At 61 years old, I am homeless in my own home. The sage grouse, elk, deer, and antelope , rare plant and grasses, didn’t count. Putting the wind towers on fault lines didn’t count. If your county commissioners are there for you and are not profitting, tell them no to wind towers and yes to the beauty that is yours there in nothing land. We know that the plants, animals, and people are not the wind energy people’s concern….it is about them getting as much money as they can squees out of Oregon and other dumb states. Wind is a farce. It is a killer of bats and birds. It displaces animals and people. Say no to wind.

  17. It is really hard to find a balance — obviously, sustainable energy is important to our future survival. However, it isn’t acceptable to destroy eco-systems and allow animal species to go by the wayside in hopes of securing better energy production.

  18. Tim Davis says:

    I live in Springfield, Oregon. I have worked as a construction Lineman on all phases of construction of High Line Powerlines. I have worked on Erection Crews both in the Towers and on the ground as well as all other phases of construction.
    I have been self-empolyed for last few years but I am looking for work now. Can anyone give me contact information on who to contact to inquire about possible employment on the Arlington Wind Farm Project.
    Thank you,
    Tim Davis Ph: 541-606-3306
    email: bamarama12@comcast.net

  19. Allen Hall says:

    I find the pros and cons of wind energy to be quite interesting. I have been in the green energy sector for nearly 20 years and have recently realized that we Oregonians must be crazy. We all want our lights, computers, heat and other comforts of home without the sacrifices to OUR way of life.
    We closed Trojan because nuclear power is bad, we deny permits for natural gas terminals and turbines, we don’t want bio-mass generation plants, wrongly believe photovoltaics is not feasible in the pacific NW, we are starting to loose hydroelectric generation capacity to environmental concerns and now wind energy is the devil.
    So if we don’t want to generate our own energy in this state I suggest turning off the lights and living like it is 1700 again.

  20. I thinks Oregon should be a cleaner place! :D

  21. Blake Carlson says:

    I am a former student of NorthWest Renewable Energy Institute and was doing some research on wind power in the state of Oregon and came upon the West Ridge wind project and the impact on the surronding wildlife,I live in Bend Oregon, about 30 west of where the project would be, I would love the oppertunity to help with the construction of the farm
    and know what it takes to construct a wind farm and protect the wildlife that surrounds it, I love the state of oregon and want nothing more to stay and work in this beatiful area. I have done countless studies on the impact of wind farms on wildlife and and the surrounding area and think wind power is a great thing for this state and want to help achive its renewable energy goals, If anyone has any information on how to get involved with this project please email me at blakewind01@yahoo.com and I am willing to answer any questions with the knowledge that I have learned while going to school for renewable energy.

    thanks
    Blake Carlson

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