Central Oregon may see construction begin on its first wind farm by next spring.
A fast-tracked wind energy project planned for private land 30 miles east of Bend finally got the nod from the Bureau of Land Management to move ahead today. Because the 104-megawatt West Butte Wind Power project relies on a transmission line and an access road through BLM land, the feds had to do a full environmental review.
It took 2.5 years – despite the "expedited" status granted by the Obama administration in 2009 – but today Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the project is in the clear.
"It makes me feel bad for the people who aren't expedited," said Sarah Rankin Stahl, project coordinator for developer Pacific Wind Power. "This is a huge deal. It's been a long journey, but this is the biggest permitting milestone."
The company worked with the Oregon Natural Desert Association to design a multi-million-dollar mitigation plan that accounts for any potential impacts to sagebrush, sage grouse and golden eagles.
Rankin Stahl said part of the reason the permitting took so long is because it's central Oregon's first wind farm, and her company was the first to face issues such as impacts to sagebrush.
Liz Nysson, the energy policy coordinator at ONDA, said the project is going in on a site that her group has identified as having low environmental impact because it's close to existing transmission lines – less than 5 miles away.
Steve Robertson, associate district manager for BLM in Prineville, said it took awhile to finalize the permit for the road and transmission line because his agency had to do a full environmental analysis on the project itself, including visual and wildlife impacts on the project site.