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Consultants’ study touts benefits of Antekope Ridge wind farm plan February 16, 2010

The company hoping to build a second wind farm in Union County says annual revenues to local governments from both facilities would range between $2.7 and $6 million.

Not only that, the two winds farms combined will account for more than 300 construction jobs and more than 90 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

But not everybody is buying it.

Horizon Wind Energy opened the 101-megawatt Elkhorn Valley wind farm at Telocaset in 2007. The company has applied to the Oregon Department of Energy to build a 300-megawatt facility, the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm, near Union in 2011.

Citing a study done recently by the economic consulting firms Pareto Global and ECONorthwest, Horizon said the two facilities combined will have significant long-term benefits to the local economy.

“Our modeling showed that wind farms have a positive economic impact, create job growth and increase revenue to local governments,” said Jules Bailey, the principal consultant for Pareto Global.

The study estimated that Elkhorn Valley created 150 construction jobs, and says that 15 people are employed at the facility now.

The work of maintaining and operating the facility has indirectly created another 24 jobs, the study says.

Also according to the study, revenue impact to  Union County and other local governments from Elkhorn Valley is estimated at $664,000 a year.

The study says Antelope Ridge would create about 165 construction jobs and 20 full-time jobs at the facility after construction.

In addition, the study claims the facility will indirectly create 32 more jobs and that revenue impact from the wind farm itself and resulting economic activity to governments will be about $2 million.

The proposed Antelope Ridge facility has stirred much controversy in the county. Some individuals and at least one local government — the City of Union — have expressed concerns about possible effects on real estate values, scenery, tourism, wildlife and more.

Dennis Wilkinson, head of the local effort to stop construction of Antelope Ridge, sharply disputed claims made in the study.

In a letter to Horizon, Wilkinson said a release about the study sent to news outlets was “full of spin and incorrect information.” He accused Horizon of having a policy of not providing facts.

Among other things, Wilkinson asked Horizon to document its claims about job creation and revenue impacts.

“These quotes of dollar revenue and job claims are exaggerated to put it mildly and it continues to be the policy of Horizon to attempt to fool the public about the wind projects,” he said.

“It is a proven fact by hundreds of reports that wind farms are inefficient and would not be built if not for the subsidy and all the tax write-off.”

Horizon consultant Bob Applegate said Monday that the study’s conclusions are based on economic models.

He said the amount of money Horizon spends on construction, operation and maintenance is the primary factor. Outside of direct employment, the Pareto study did not pinpoint employment at local companies.

Applegate said that direct jobs are jobs held by workers at a facility. Indirect jobs are jobs at businesses that support operation and maintenance, and induced jobs are those created at businesses like restaurants and retail stores.

“It is a fair thing to say that absent the wind farm, there would be fewer jobs,” he said.

Applegate said that Horizon employs two full-time workers at Elkhorn, with plans to add a third. He said turbine manufacturer Vestas employs 12 people at Elkhorn.

Applegate also said that the study’s estimate of revenue impacts to governments is broad because those impacts depend on what agreements are worked out.

He said that if Horizon reaches a Strategic Investment Program agreement with Union County, the smaller figure would apply.

“I think it’s fair to say that the revenue impact to the county would be at least $2.7 million,” he said.

He said Horizon and Union County are currently in negotiations regarding an SIP agreement.

Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer


Proposed wind farm encounters resistance from City of Union January 27, 2010

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 –


Firm takes step forward with wind farm plans October 28, 2009

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.

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.

Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer