A coalition of environmental groups is asking Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Department of Energy to close what they say is a loophole in Oregon’s renewable energy siting regulations that allows wind projects to avoid strict review.
Under state rules, if a proposed project is under 105 megawatts in size it goes through the local county to secure its land use permit. Larger projects must pass review by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council.
Environmental groups complain that some wind developers try to game the system by splitting large projects into several smaller and adjacent projects, each under 105 megawatts, to avoid state scrutiny. (One megawatt of installed wind capacity is enough to power about 250 to 300 homes.)
“I don’t think it’s a widespread abuse, but it is an abuse,” said Liz Nysson, Climate Change Coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, one of the groups, along with the Audubon Society of Portland and Defenders of Wildlife, that today filed a petition (PDF) with the state to review the rules.
“We support responsible renewable energy development in Oregon. But it’s imperative that industrial-scale facilities not be allowed to skirt the comprehensive, public review process that the council was created to achieve,” Nysson said.
The groups say the rules at the county level, where local officials are eager to draw the jobs and revenue wind projects can bring, can be more relaxed, putting wildlife and other resources as risk.
For instance, the state recommends against building a wind turbine within three miles of a breeding site for sage grouse, a bird that could soon be added to the list of endangered species.
“At the county level, our recommendations are just that,” Christian Hagen, a grouse specialist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Oregonian last year.
The state, counties and wind industry have said they are working to create standardized review rules for renewable energy projects, mainly wind. And they argue the county land use process allows the public ample opportunity to review proposed projects.
“I find it surprising that these environmental groups are unwilling to work with rural counties,” said Harney County Judge Steve Grasty. ” We’d love to have a sit down with them on this.”
Grasty said the groups are aware that county planners across the state recently completed a year-long effort to craft suggested guidelines for local review of energy projects.
“If anything, I think the counties are more strict,” he said.
Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian – http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2010/02/conservation_groups_want_orego.html