District court nixes wind turbine project
After years of creating headaches for the oiland-gas industry, the greater sage grouse is now standing in the way of renewable energy.
The U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday killed a major wind-energy project slated for southeast Oregon over concerns about its impact on a local sage grouse population in a victory for environmental groups, which had fought the proposal for years.
The 104-megawatt project, which would have spread up to 70 wind turbines and a transmission line across 10,500 acres in rural Harney County, was decried by environmentalists as an “industrial scale wind development” that would have disrupted sage grouse habitat.
“Such a development would have severed a unique habitat corridor that is essential to the survival of neighboring populations of Greater sage-grouse and destroyed the bird’s nearby winter concentration areas,” said a statement by the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Audubon Society of Portland.
Proposed by Columbia Energy Partners of Vancouver, the project was approved by the Bureau of Land Management in 2011. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the BLM had failed to take into account the impact on the sage grouse’s winter habitat.
The Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in 2015 that the greater sage grouse “does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act,” finding that the chicken-sized bird remains “relatively abundant and well-distributed across the species’ 173-million acre range.”
The turbines would have been built on private land, but the 12-mile transmission line would have crossed federal property.
“Wind energy is an important part of future energy generation, but Steens Mountain is simply not the right place for industrial-scale wind development,” said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. “Steens Mountain is the crown jewel of Oregon’s high desert. It is home to sage grouse and other sensitive wildlife species, and Oregonians treasure the area for its wide-open vistas and wild country.”