Wind farm vote will hinge on benefit to Union County

By Observer editorial September 03, 2010 12:36 pm
Union County voters will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Farm in the Nov. 2 election. The Union County Board of Commissioners this week, by a vote of 2-1, approved putting a vote on the ballot to gauge how the public feels about the project. Approving the vote was the right thing to do — despite the fact that most of the proponents who voiced their support also opposed a public vote. That just didn’t make any sense.

The proposed project has generated a lot of controversy. The naysayers have dominated the discussion, but it’s entirely possible that a majority of voters in Union County support the project, the investment in Union County and the jobs and tax revenue it will bring.

But it’s also true that a lot of people could be undecided and waiting to see how Horizon Wind, developer of the project, mitigates concerns about the project’s impact on the viewshed, wildlife, the Oregon Trail. They also could be waiting to see the results of negotiations between Horizon and the county on the Strategic Investment Program and what County Commission Chairman Mark Davidson calls an “impact mitigation fee.’’ It’s not unfair of local citizens to ask, “What’s in it for us?’’ An offset of power costs, as suggested this spring by former county commissioner John Lamoreau, might be a stretch since OTEC gets its power from BPA. But all possibilities should at least be on the table.

The onus is on Horizon to make sure there is something in it for the citizens of Union County — something beyond what the private landowners will take in, the construction jobs the project will bring and the ongoing maintenance jobs that will remain. Those are significant, and any investment in Union County at this time is good. But Horizon could seal the deal — and voters’ support — by negotiating an agreement favorable to Union County and its citizens.

Union County needs economic investment. Our region needs more sources of clean energy. But at the same time, a project as big as Antelope Ridge is bound to have some negative impacts. Horizon should do everything within its power to minimize those and negotiate a fair settlement with Union County. If it does all that, it won’t have to worry about the outcome of the vote.