Horizon Wind Energy’s plans to build a 300 megawatt wind farm near La Grande picked up steam last week as the company formally filed a site application with the state Energy Facility Siting Council.
WIND MACHINES: Turbines like these at the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm at Telocaset may rise on Craig Mountain southeast of La Grande if the state Energy Facility Siting Council approves Horizon Wind Energy’s plan to build the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm. Observer file photo
Horizon plans to build the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm on a 47,000-acre site in the area of Craig Mountain, about 10 miles southeast of La Grande. The site is said to be one of the windiest in all the Pacific Northwest.
“This is a great area. The wind peaks in the winter time, which is when people need power the most,” said Horizon spokeswoman Valerie Franklin.In April, Horizon filed a notice of intent to build the facility. Franklin said last week’s application filing is the next step in a long and complicated siting process.
Horizon Wind Energy owns wind farms throughout North America, including the 101-megawatt, 61-turbine Elkhorn Valley facility near Telocaset in Union County.
The Antelope Ridge wind farm would be substantially larger than Elkhorn, up to 300 megawatts and 182 turbines. But those figures are not yet set in stone, according to Franklin.
She said the number of turbines and their precise location will be determined later. For one thing, Horizon does not have a power purchase agreement.
“We don’t know how many turbines there will be until we have a buyer for the power,” she said.
The Antelope Ridge project has generated a fair degree of local controversy, with groups and individuals expressing concern over scenery values, effects on wildlife, possible damage to cultural resources, noise levels and decommissioning when the project is over.
Franklin said all those concerns will be addressed as EFSC works through the application process.
The process includes public hearings and review of the application by a myriad of federal, state, city, county and tribal agencies. Horizon will have to meet requirements set forth by those agencies.
Franklin said Horizon is highly aware of local concerns. One thing she is asking people to keep in mind is the actual footprint of the project.
“Of the 47,000 acres, 11,000 acres is the area studied, of which 1.5 percent will actually be utilized,” she said. “That’s an important message. People think, ‘Oh my God, it’s 47,000 acres,’ but the actual footprint is much smaller.”
On the wildlife issue, Franklin said the company is already taking steps to meet requirements.
“We’ve done a basic inventory and are working on a mitigation plan. We are funding a multi-year GPS study on big game in coordination with ODFW,” she said.
Regarding cultural resources, questions have been raised about the site’s proximity to the Old Oregon Trail.
Franklin said there are portions of the historic alignment of the trail that pass through Horizon’s study corridors, but added that care will be taken to preserve the trail.
“This is an issue we take very seriously,” she said.
The State Historic Preservation Office will set requirements for preservation. Franklin said that in the meantime, Horizon is reaching out to people with concerns.
Recently, she said, the company gave a tour of the site to members of the Oregon-California Trails Association.
“We were looking for their concurrence,” she said. “We’ve been transparent and tried to work with them.”
On the noise issue, Franklin said Horizon has hired a consultant to do a study and will meet any requirements imposed.
On decommissioning, she said Horizon will have to post a bond before construction ever begins.
“It’s a substantial bond, excluding scrap value,” she said. “It’s part of the state’s requirements. The money will be held in place,” she said.
Franklin said she knows there is some public opposition to the project, but also said she believes there is a good deal of public support.
She said the project carries many benefits, including energy from a green renewable source, property taxes paid to Union County, lease payments to landowners, and most of all, jobs.
“That’s at the top of the list. We don’t have an exact number for Antelope Ridge, but I can tell you Elkhorn provides 14 family wage jobs, most of which were hired locally,” she said.