By Terri Harber
Baker County Planning Commissioners last week heard about proposals for two wind farms in the southeastern part of the county near Huntington and Lime.
The developers have applied for conditional use permits. The two wind farms would share a substation and existing Idaho Power Company power line.
Maximum capacity at 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 4.5miles 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 4.5miles northeast of Lime.
The Lime site's more than 4,200 acres are zoned for exclusive farm and industrial uses.
The two wind farms would connect to an existing Idaho Power Company line.
The farms would be on private land within the county. Though under separate ownership the sites will serve similar energy generating purposes.
This is why the planning commissioners have some say about the projects.
Commissioner Randy Joseph operates his own wind farm five miles north of Huntington on land controlled by U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Joseph wanted to know how other counties in Oregon handled the conditional use permits when wildlife studies still need to be completed.
He suggested the planning commission's decision leaves open the potential to reconsider the matter if necessary.
Robert Guertin, Oregon Wind Farms Inc., said his firm has been working on the projects for six years.
Guertin suggested the county ask for yearly reports.
A wildlife habitat study was started several months ago and should be complete in spring 2014, he said.
Financial conditions are favorable now to complete the projects, Guertin said.
The conditional use permits need to be issued this year or the project won't be viable, he said. Incentives are expected to change or even end this year.
Wind turbines in both areas would be within the Big Game Habitat overlay, and there are wetlands in the project area.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends some mitigation measures be taken because of sage grouse and big game winter range.
And the agency recommends no development within the sage grouse core area to the south.
Not many locations in this area would support commercial wind. And this site has soil that's not optimal for ag or cattle, Guertin said.
If approved, the wind farms aren't expected to create a large number of local jobs but the workers who come in to construct the farms use local suppliers.
And they'll need local products and services while on the job.
It's also "relatively low-impact," Guertin said.
"Noise from wind turbines dissipates very quickly," he said. "One-half mile away and you don't know it's there."
The Federal Aviation Administration gave clearance for more turbine sites than needed. Not all of the proposed turbine sites are going to be used because some might end up not being suitable, Guertin said.
Commissioner Bill Harvey recused himself and testified against the proposal.
Among his concerns are that turbines will ruin the views from surrounding highways and recreation spots as well as damage tourism efforts that highlight the scenic beauty of the area.
And lighting required by the FAA would further spoil the views.
"We market tourism on habitat," Harvey said.
And if there are some of these wind turbines, then other property owners would want them as well - even agriculture producers, he said.
"If you let this go through, there's no stopping it," Harvey warned. "If it's ag ground, pasture ground, you should keep it as it is."
Everyone located within 750 feet of the sites was notified by the county about the plans.
Wind Farms Inc., has done projects in such Oregon locations as Morrow and Umatilla counties.
The issue has been continued to 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 16. The public hearing was closed but, if needed, more public comment could be allowed.