District court nixes wind turbine project

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON This ar­ti­cle was based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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.”

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