Saturday, November 19, 2011

Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project Update

Wind turbines near the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project

Story & photo by Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator for HCPC

It’s been a very interesting week in the world of Pacific Northwest wind power proposals. Here in northeast Oregon, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) and the developer EDP Renewables jointly announced that they had resolved most of the wildlife objections previously raised by ODFW over the Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project. This agreement likely moves the application one step further down review process. However, Hells Canyon Preservation Council will continue to advocate for the strongest possible wildlife protections during the review of the project application.

The agreement between ODFW and EDP Renewables is the product of months of mediated negotiations set up by Governor Kitzhaber. It’s now up to the Oregon Department of Energy to create a “Draft Proposed Order” for the Antelope Ridge Project. At that point, members of the public may raise issues or objections during the “Public Hearings” phase of the process. So while the accord between ODFW and EDP is a significant development in the application process to permit the construction of Antelope Ridge, it is still a long ways from being completed.

I have begun to read through the eight new documents about Antelope Ridge that were released this week. It’s complicated. It will take some time to adequately research this new information. However, here are some of my initial impressions of these agreements.

· Overall, wildlife protections are significantly weaker than those in ODFW’s earlier comments on Antelope Ridge.

· The project would be built in two phases. Up to 100 turbines would be built in phase 1. Unfortunately, phase 1 turbines include those closest to the crest of Craig Mountain and flyways for eagles, hawks and other birds.

· Phase 2 would only be constructed after completion of a multiple year big game monitoring study.

· ODFW and EDP Renewables were unable to come to consensus regarding property to be acquired for mitigation of wildlife impacts from the wind project.

· An “Incidental Take Permit” for the killing of bald eagles by turbines would recommended rather than required.

· Golden eagle issues will be addressed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and not by ODFW.

· An Avian and Bat Protection Plan will be developed between USFWS and EDP Renewables and not by ODFW.

USFWS will play an important role as protections for golden eagles and the Avian and Bat Protection Plan are developed.

Hells Canyon Preservation Council will continue to play an important role in advocating for wildlife protections as public review of the Antelope Ridge project develops. HCPC led a coalition of conservation groups in submitting comments to Oregon Department of Energy advocating for strong wildlife protections in December 2010. I also spoke about these concerns when I addressed the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council at a public meeting in early 2011. We will keep you informed about the Antelope Ridge project and future opportunities for you to comment during the “Public Hearings” phase of the process.

Renewable energy is a very good thing. The earth’s future hangs in the balance over how well we are able to conserve energy and develop clean energy production. However, renewable energy projects must be located on appropriate sites, and wildlife and their habitat must be protected in the process. We will continue to advocate for appropriate renewable energy but we will continue to insist that wildlife are not sacrificed in the process.

There is ample cause for concern about impacts to wildlife from the Antelope Ridge Wind Energy Project. EDP Renewables has applied to install 164 turbines over 47,000 acres of private land in the hills just south of the Grande Ronde Valley. (Horizon Wind Energy was the subsidiary of EDP Renewables that filed the application).

According to ODFW’s earlier comments, “The Project is one of the first wind power projects in Oregon proposed to be sited in critical big game winter range and very productive wildlife habitat, resulting in the construction of a large industrial structure that negatively affects Oregon’s wildlife.”

Antelope Ridge would be built immediately north of EDP’s existing Elkhorn Valley wind facility where four golden eagles have been found dead since May 2009, presumably killed by wind turbines. Since Antelope Ridge would be larger and located closer to eagle nesting areas, the likelihood of more golden eagle deaths is high, according to US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawk, and red-tailed hawks nest within the project area. Four species of bats have been identified as well. The sensitive plant species Doulas clover and Oregon semaphore grass grow in the project area.

Antelope Ridge would be constructed just south of Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, northeast Oregon’s largest remaining wetland. It would be about a dozen miles west of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Forests, sagebrush /grasslands and wetlands provide key wildlife habitat in the project area. Wildlife travel through the project area, and it’s an important wildlife connectivity corridor. In fact, the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group has identified the area as an important habitat link between the essential habitats of the Wallowa Mountains and the Blue Mountains.

There was also news about other Pacific Northwest wind power projects this week. In western Washington, the Radar Ridge project was cancelled over concerns about the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird. Also this week, in southeast Oregon two wind projects were withdrawn from the unique and important Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. A third project and a transmission line proposal for the Steens Mountain area still pose threats to eagles and sage-grouse of that region, however. Nevertheless, it is promising to say goodbye to these projects that harm wildlife. When faced with harmful energy development projects, HCPC will continue to provide a voice for wildlife. It's a privilege to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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