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Green groups fighting wind power project

Two groups dedicated to preserving Oregon's environment are batting a developer in the courts over where to place a wind development project, supporting the concept but trying to block the planned location.

The land-use litigation pits the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Portland Audubon against the Echanis Wind Project. Developers of the project want to put between 40 and 60 wind turbines on 10,000 acres at Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. Each turbine would generate enough megawatts to provide power to approximately 30,000 homes. The energy would be transferred to Southern California Edison for use in that region.

The groups are seeking relief in U.S. District Court in Portland to halt the $300 million project, one of two proposed in the area.

Leaders of the Desert Association said they can suggest numerous other locations in the high desert area of eastern Oregon where the project would not create the negative environmental ramifications that it would at Steens Mountain. A leader of Portland Audubon said while the group supports renewable energy, the location is among the sacred spots in Oregon.

Already, officials in Harney County, Oregon, and the U.S. secretary of the interior have approved the portions of the project that need their OK. Developers have said the county is the ideal place to build a wind power project. During a 24-hour test that occurred two years ago, the average wind speed on Steens Mountain registered 41 miles per hour.

The two environmental groups argue in the lawsuit that an environmental-impact report issued last year fails to take into account the visual impact the project would have. The groups also contend that the transmission lines, wind turbines and other necessary improvements would threaten the migration and breeding for native animals, such as the bighorn sheep.

The news of the lawsuit has discouraged members of the local community, which had hoped the project would bring badly needed jobs. The area has a 12.5 percent unemployment rate and yearns for the 100 construction jobs and as many as dozen full-time maintenance positions the project would bring, a local official said.

Source: The Oregonian, "Lawsuit against wind energy project near Steens Mountain pits green groups against green project," Richard Cockle, May 3, 2012

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