Eastern Oregon wind farm clears hurdle

A wind farm planned for outside La Grande cleared a major environmental hurdle and may create 165 construction jobs.

A wind farm planned for outside La Grande cleared a major environmental hurdle and may create 165 construction jobs.

The Antelope Ridge Wind Farm cleared a critical hurdle in November, signing a mitigation agreement with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife that paves the way for the $600 million, 300-megawatt project to move ahead in Oregon’s energy facility siting process.

Antelope Ridge is proposed 10 miles southeast of La Grande amid 47,000 acres of leases held by its developer in Union County.

EDP Renewables North America, a Texas-based subsidiary of EDP Renewables, formerly known as Horizon Wind Energy, first proposed the project to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Commission in April 2009, two years after successfully developing the 100-megawatt Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm in Union County.

Antelope Ridge has since been stymied, however, in part due to significant concerns about its impacts to birds, bats, deer and wildlife habitat. Last April, Gov. John Kitzhaber convened a mediation process between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and EDP Renewables.

The two entities announced an agreement Nov. 14, and said their deal amounts to a series of plans to avoid, minimize and mitigate wildlife impacts of the proposed wind farm, including provisions to help managers better understand the impacts of wind farms on wildlife.

ODFW Director Roy Elicker said the plans strike “a balance between protecting Oregon’s natural resources and allowing sustainable economic development which is so important to our state.”

The plans include avoiding critical habitat, minimizing removal of sagebrush and forested habitat, siting wind turbines away from ridges attractive to raptors, surveying plants before construction, employing an on-site biological monitor during construction to watch for burrowing own and ferruginous hawk and other nests, providing environmental training to construction crews, limiting trenching, allowing escape ramps for trapped animals in trenches, adding a culvert at the Jimmy Creek headwaters and avoiding construction around hawk, owl and eagle nests during sensitive time periods and respecting setback distances around nests.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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