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Quietly pursuing options in Oregon

Shepherds Flat, a massive 909 MW wind development planned for Oregon's busy Columbia River Gorge, could begin construction within a year. The project, proposed by Caithness Energy, a privately held New York developer, would plant 303 turbines in Gilliam and Morrow counties near the Washington border.

Caithness recently filed a site-certification application with the Oregon Department of Energy and is hoping for final approvals by mid-year. "I think they'd be hard pressed to start construction in 2008 but it's possible," says John White of the Oregon Department of Energy. "They have a construction estimate of two to three years and whether they build in phases or not, it'll probably take them a while to get that much built. But if you're asking the likelihood that this amount of generation would be constructed, you'd really have to talk to the company."

Caithness is known for saying little and stuck to its track record. "We don't want to presuppose what our permit is going to say in terms of construction and our ability to construct in phases or not," says the company's Derrel Grant. "And if the turbine manufacturer wants to go out and state what has happened, it's up to that company. We think our turbine position is somewhat proprietary and wouldn't want that to be out in the public domain." No turbine order or company involvement has been made public.

The project was originally proposed in 2006 by LifeLine Development Group of Sacramento, California, which applied to build Shepherds Flat at 750 MW. Caithness, which develops and owns wind and other renewable energy projects in California, Texas and Wyoming, has since taken over the project, but did not disclose or comment on the shift in ownership.

Shepherds Flat will include 57 miles of new access roads, two new substations and 120 miles of new transmission, reports The Oregonian newspaper. The mammoth project is spurred in part by electricity retailers seeking to meet mandates for renewable energy supply in Oregon, Washington and California. Oregon needs to reach 25% green power by 2025.

"There are certain economies of scale on this one that would probably push them toward building most of it or all of it," says White. "We've also had site certificates issued where they actually come back and expand the facility. That's probably more of a pattern that we've seen rather than the other way around." Oregon ranks 23rd in US wind potential with nearly 1000 MW of wind power online or building.

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