Horizon Wind Energy has a long way to go to convince the City of Union that the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Farm is a good thing.
A city-appointed committee recently completed a 10-page study of impacts the proposed 300-megawatt facility might have on the community.
The bottom line? Union recognizes the importance of renewable energy, but fears negative effects on scenic and aesthetic values, property values, tourism and economic health, and more.
“We’re opposed if it hurts Union or Union residents in any way,” said City Administrator Sandra Patterson, who also served on the committee.
The committee recently submitted a report to the Oregon Department of Energy, whose Energy Facility Siting Council has say-so on the site certificate application.
In a cover letter to Energy Facility Siting Officer Susan Oliver, the city said it believes the wind farm would have overall negative impact, while providing minimal economic benefit.
Valerie Franklin, Horizon’s Antelope Ridge project development manager, said this week her company hopes the differences can be worked out.
“We believe there is room to work together with the City of Union to minimize impact while ensuring jobs, economic investment and energy independence for Union County,” she said.
She also said the project will yield positive economic impacts for the county as a whole.
“We are proud to call Union County home and believe that the majority of Union County citizens welcome the jobs and economic development this $600 million investment will bring,” Franklin said.
Horizon, the owner of the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm at Telocaset, off Highway 237 between Union and North Powder, wants to build a second facility near the Union city limits.
The proposed project area stretches southeast, south and west of the city. The 300-megawatt Antelope Ridge wind farm would feature “up to” 182 tall turbines.
The committee’s report painted a scenario in which turbines surround the city 200 degrees and rise above rooftops.
The closest turbine, according to the committee, might be 1.2 miles away, and the farthest 2.4 miles. That would not be acceptable, the report said.
“People move to Union for the remarkable backdrop and the peaceful and beautiful surroundings,” the committee report said. “We do not have manufacturing or big business, what we do have is community character.”
Franklin said that Horizon’s project area map shows “study corridors” but does not show locations of turbines. She said that no decision has been made on turbine siting yet.
“We do not know at this time where turbines will go in the study corridors. However, not all study corridors are intended for turbines,” she said.
Patterson acknowledged that the project map does not show the location of turbines. However, she said the scenario in the report is a valid one.
“The map shows the location of generators, and those are what operates the turbines,” she said.
Franklin said the study corridor closest to the city, Ramo Flat Road, is actually a road improvement, and that another corridor running northwest of the city is earmarked for a transmission feeder line.
Regarding real estate values, the Union committee acknowledged there are conflicting opinions on whether values go down in areas near wind farms. The group believes the threat is there, while Horizon disagrees.
A government-funded study often cited by Horizon looks at sales of 7,500 homes in nine states and concludes there is no evidence of impacts to property values.
“We believe the concern about wind energy and property values is a solved question,” Franklin said.
But studies cited in the city’s report indicate that values can be affected. The city thinks the question needs to be looked at closely.
“We assert that sufficient conditions exist to recommend that prudent action by the siting council is appropriate,” the report said.
Union is asking that Horizon pay for a 3- to 5-year study on the local property value issue before the project proceeds.
If the study indicates property value loss, the committee says Horizon should have to compensate property owners, and compensate the city for lost tax revenues if the project is built.
As with the real estate question, the city’s committee could not produce conclusive evidence that the wind farm will hurt local tourism and economic development.
On the other hand, it said there is reason enough to believe that it will.
The committee cited a report from Scotland that says wind farms there have a negative effect on tourism.
More than half of the people interviewed in the Scottish study said they thought wind power spoils the look of a countryside, and one-quarter said they would avoid parts of the country with wind developments.
Horizon Wind Energy, the owner of this wind farm at Telocaset, wants to build a second facility near Union.
But Franklin presents an opposite view, saying some wind farms have turned out to be tourist attractions.
As an example, she said the Wild Horse Wind Farm in Kittitas County, Wash., experienced more than 18,000 national and international visitors in 2008.
Union’s committee said the city has worked hard to bring in tourists and provide amenities, and that wind power threatens the community’s attractiveness.
Some 44 of Union’s buildings are on the historic register, grant money has been received for street maintenance, Buffalo Peak golf course is gaining as an attraction and land around the golf course is being rezoned for higher-end development, the Union report noted.
“We do all this in an ongoing effort to become increasingly attractive to tourists and future property owners,” said the committee report. “Set and setting are a significant part of our efforts.”
The committee’s report asks that the project either be completely suspended or that Horizon be required to pay compensation to offset negative effects on tourism.
In order to build the project, Horizon must meet standards set by the Energy Facility Siting Council. The standards are designed to protect natural resources, ensure public health and safety and protect against adverse environmental impacts.
According to EFSC’s website, the standards ask three fundamental questions:
• Does the applicant have the appropriate abilities to build this energy facility?
• Is the site suitable?
• Would the facility have adverse impacts on the environment and the community?
Horizon filed its preliminary application for a site certificate back in October. On Dec. 30, the Oregon Dept. of Energy notified the company the application is incomplete.
The ODE’s 28-page Request for Additional Information asks clarification on the number and the height of towers, impacts on fish and wildlife, effects on scenery, noise levels and a host of other issues.
The request notes that the City of Union and numerous other Grande Ronde Valley residents have expressed concerns about visual impacts.
The energy department said it is required to make sure Horizon takes “practicable measures” to reduce environmental and scenic impact.
Those measures could include using underground transmission lines and designing the facility to minimize visual impacts. The department asked Horizon for more information on the visibility of the project, preferably in the form of a 3D simulation.
Franklin said the state response is a “normal and routine part” of the siting process. She said Horizon will be working hard to resolve all unanswered questions and concerns.
“We expect it be an iterative process over the next few months while we pull together the information EFSC needs, employing the expertise within our company and quality consultants,” she said.
Union, meanwhile, is planning town hall meetings. Patterson said the city hasn’t surveyed residents on the proposed project, but believes people will oppose it once they learn more details.
“We’ve talked to a few, and we’ve found that most of them don’t understand the size of the project. When we tell them, they say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ and they don’t want it,” she said.
Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer – http://www.lagrandeobserver.com/News/Local-News/Proposed-wind-farm-encounters-resistance-from-City-of-Union