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Can wind-power project fly high in Central Oregon?

Big plans east of Bend may come down to a small bird, the sage grouse. Central Oregon's first commercial wind farm could be up and running as soon as next year, unless it runs into environmental or other obstacles its backers cannot overcome. The $220 million project would be built on private land 30 miles east of Bend. However, the project is facing some scrutiny over it's impact on the wildlife habitat.

Big plans east of Bend may come down to a small bird, the sage grouse

Central Oregon's first commercial wind farm could be up and running as soon as next year, unless it runs into environmental or other obstacles its backers cannot overcome.

The $220 million project would be built on private land 30 miles east of Bend. However, the project is facing some scrutiny over it's impact on the wildlife habitat.

It could power over 50,000 homes and bring an estimated $1 million annually in property taxes.

One potential obstacle is a small population of sage grouse who reside in the area.

A site at West Butte, north of Highway 20, might soon be home to 34 to 52 wind turbines that would occupy nearly 20 acres of West Butte Ranch.

"It's a 104-megawatt project," Sarah Rankin of Pacific Wind Power said Monday. "Annually it would produce enough power to generate the power of approximately 50,000 homes a year, roughly that's about 300,000 megawatts a year. In perspective, that's about half of what Central Oregon Electric Co-op supplies right now."

Rankin says the wind farm will benefit the area economicall,y as well as environmentally.

"We are all aware of the impact of global warming on the total environment,... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Big plans east of Bend may come down to a small bird, the sage grouse

Central Oregon's first commercial wind farm could be up and running as soon as next year, unless it runs into environmental or other obstacles its backers cannot overcome.

The $220 million project would be built on private land 30 miles east of Bend. However, the project is facing some scrutiny over it's impact on the wildlife habitat.

It could power over 50,000 homes and bring an estimated $1 million annually in property taxes.

One potential obstacle is a small population of sage grouse who reside in the area.

A site at West Butte, north of Highway 20, might soon be home to 34 to 52 wind turbines that would occupy nearly 20 acres of West Butte Ranch.

"It's a 104-megawatt project," Sarah Rankin of Pacific Wind Power said Monday. "Annually it would produce enough power to generate the power of approximately 50,000 homes a year, roughly that's about 300,000 megawatts a year. In perspective, that's about half of what Central Oregon Electric Co-op supplies right now."

Rankin says the wind farm will benefit the area economicall,y as well as environmentally.

"We are all aware of the impact of global warming on the total environment, on ecosystems, on endangering species of different animals," she said. "So it's a real benefit all the way around."

Over a year of research has gone into the project.

One worry is what's called a sage grouse lek, which is where the small birds mate.

"There's no real hard evidence that it's going to hurt the sage grouse," Rankin said. "We just want to prove what is there and think of the best possible things that we can do to promote their habitat."

The small bird is being considered as an endangered species.

"Because primarily of habitat declines and loss of habitat, the species have been petitioned to be put on the endangered species list about nine times since the mid-'90's, and currently is under that same status review," said Christian Hagen of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The goal is green energy, which sits well with groups like the Oregon Natural Desert Association - but not at the cost of wildlife habitat.

"I think wind developers themselves have acknowledged that these types of projects can't be everywhere," said Brent Fenty, ONDA's executive director. "They need to take into consideration some of the environmental impacts that could occur on both wildlife and in some cases the visual impacts that some people are concerned about."

The wind turbines plan to be put in such a remote area that they wouldn't be seen from Highway 20. The turbines, which would rise 400 to 500 feet high, wouldn't be anywhere near any community.

Commercial wind farms are becoming a popular idea in Oregon as a major source of renewable energy.

As for the sage grouse, there are no scientific studies that say wind farms damage wildlife habitat, and no one knows how the grouse will react to a wind farm.

A public hearing is planned sometime next month in Crook County.


Source: http://www.ktvz.com/global/...

JAN 12 2009
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