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Planning Commission denies wind farm permits


By Terri Harber

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Baker County Planning Commissioners on Tuesday denied conditional-use permits for construction of a pair of wind farms near Huntington and Lime. 

Commissioners began deliberating about the projects last week. The large number of public comments at that time resulted in a meeting lasting more than four hours. Tuesday’s meeting concluded after about 3 1/2 hours.

The four planning commissioners originally involved with the issue in late June saw it through to the end: Commission Chair Alice Trindle and Commissioners Jim Grove, Suzan Ellis Jones and Randy Joseph.

Commissioner Bill Harvey recused himself to express opposition to the projects.

Robert Guertin, a spokesman for Oregon Wind Farms Inc., the project developer, attended Tuesday’s meeting but he didn’t speak to planners.

The developers can appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the County Board of Commissioners.

Before denying the request for conditional-use permits, planning commissioners cited objections to wind farms made by Harvey and other opponents.

The potential effect of the turbines on the region’s viewshed came up repeatedly.

“What adverse impact is there to the value of surrounding property?” Joseph asked Grove, who brought up the issue.

Joseph operates the county’s only wind farm, which consists of six turbines on BLM land about five miles north of Huntington.

Even though the privately owned sites for the two proposed wind farms are considered less-than-optimal for agriculture, allowing the turbines — 12 at one site, and 12 to 18 at the other — might affect property values if residents are disappointed when they “look out and see” the turbines, Grove said.

“The surrounding area is rangeland,” Joseph said. “I don’t think the cows are going to care that much.”

Grove later pointed out that recreational use could be affected by the turbines aesthetically and physically. It would keep some from using the nearby BLM land.

Grove and other commissioners believe wind farms would affect the local economy as well. The county has “spent a lot of money” promoting the Oregon Trail, Grove said during the lengthy discussion.

Erecting turbines isn’t “preserving an asset in particular interest to the community,” he said.

Joseph explained that the public can’t use stretches of the Oregon Trail on private land. Any conditions the county would attach to a wind farm permit have to focus on sites accessible to the public as well as those locations that can “be seen from public areas,” Joseph said.

He voted against some of the conditions being imposed but also added some of his own —  use of state-of-the-art equipment to shield the turbine lighting said to spoil night viewing of the sky, for example.

Some residents last week complained that the wind farms wouldn’t benefit Baker County utility users because the electricity would be sold to Idaho Power Company.  

Several Baker County communities are served by Idaho Power, such as Halfway, Huntington and Ash Grove Cement. So denying that the project won’t fulfill a local need for more clean energy is inaccurate, Joseph said.

Oregon has a renewable energy goal: By 2025, 25 percent of the energy produced must be green. While the area’s need exceeds total hydroelectric production during the summer, the developer didn’t provide any survey material supporting this, Joseph stressed.

And it’s unknown where the renewed energy credits resulting from the production are going to be sold, he said.

Another issue that arose during the commission’s discussions is the potential effect of wind farms on sage grouse.

A wildlife habitat study was started several months ago and should be complete in spring 2014.

Some of the proposed sites for installing wind turbines are in core sage grouse habitat. 

Maximum capacity at the wind farm near Huntington would be 20 megawatts, from a proposed 12 turbines. The Lime site would produce 30 megawatts from 12 to 18 turbines.

The Huntington site is about 4 1/2  miles northwest of the city and off of Malheur Lane, Durbin Creek Lane and Interstate 84. A cell phone tower sits on one of the lots and the entire location is more than 4,000 acres of exclusive farm use zone.  It’s used for grazing.

The Lime site also is within an industrial zone, about 4 1/2 miles northeast of Lime. Its more than 4,200 acres are zoned for exclusive farm and industrial uses.

The two wind farms would share a substation and transmit power to existing Idaho Power Company transmission line.

More than a dozen people came to the commission’s Tuesday afternoon meeting, even though public comment about the project was completed last week.

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