The northeastern edge of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation has been targeted as a potential area for a commercial wind project that could generate enough electricity to power about 27,000 homes.
Placed on what is known as the Mutton Mountain area, the 65 to 75 wind turbines would stand approximately 400 to 574 feet tall and spread across 300 acres.
Wind farms continue to crop up in the Columbia Gorge, with wind that made the area famous for surfers now enticing wind companies. And although Central Oregon may never have the same lure for energy-generating turbines as the Gorge, the Warm Springs project is the second potential commercial wind farm proposal announced recently — and experts think the region may see more.
Last week, a proposal to build 34 to 52 wind turbines in Crook County was deemed complete by the county’s planning department. Named the West Butte Wind Power Project, the estimated $220 million project would sit on about 20 acres of private land and generate enough electricity to power about 50,000 homes. The Crook County Planning Department will likely hold a public hearing on the project in February. Some environmental and wildlife groups are concerned the project could threaten sage grouse and harm other animals.
Officials from Harney County and the Bureau of Land Management office in Burns have also seen an increased number of requests for permits to test the wind potential in Southeast Oregon.
Jim Manion, general manager of Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises, which is responsible for developing renewable energy, said the three tribes — Wasco, Paiute and Warm Springs — have long been interested in renewable energy development.
“The tribes are supportive of improving the environment and the impacts humans cause to it,” he said. “And this project is also a way we can broaden the economic base for the tribes.”
Cylvia Hayes, the CEO of 3EStrategies, a Bend-based consulting firm that focuses on sustainable economic development, said wind energy in Central Oregon could be a large revenue generator.
“Wind development in Oregon is mushrooming. We are ninth in the nation for wind development, and we have three times that under development,” Hayes said. “It’s been booming and will continue to boom … Oregon currently has 9,000 megawatts of wind installed, and there are another 700 megawatts recently approved and 1,300 under review.”
Lou Torres, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Energy, said a standard-sized turbine can generate enough electricity for 250 to 300 average-sized homes. A typical wind turbine will rotate with wind speeds starting at 7 to 8 miles per hour, but reaches full generating capacity when the wind speed is 25 to 30 miles per hour.
Although the Warm Springs project is still in the preliminary stages, the first phase — a four-year study to assess the feasibility and location on the reservation where wind turbines could be placed — is complete.
Manion, with Warm Springs Power and Water, said the tribes could act as a landlord and generate income from the land, and sell the energy.
If the Tribal Council gives the project a thumbs-up by this spring, the natural resource department will begin the environmental assessment of the area.
D. Sehgal, with the natural resource department, said the assessment will be extensive.
“The report will describe any potential effect to the environment, water, fish, wildlife, geology, culture, transportation, public safety. We will look at anything and everything,” Sehgal said.
So far, Manion said, the project has generated excitement.
“Initial indications from tribal members have indicated support for developing renewable energy,” Manion said.