United States

United States

Precedent setting yes for small plant -- Columbia Gorge bird group fights on

A small-turbine wind project for a ridge above Washington and Oregon's Columbia River has received a conditional use permit which could break a long standing stalemate with environmentalists and Native Americans over the area's wind installations. The Audubon Society still argues, however, that the area is densely populated with hawks and eagles. It vows to continue its fight to move the project.

With a permit in hand from Klickitat County, Washington, Michael Kitchen of the Mariah Energy Group says it has taken him seven years and several studies to get to this point. He plans to begin reassembling 16, 50 kW ESI-54 turbines early this month -- units that in the 1980s produced power at the Whiskey Run wind farm near Coos Bay, Oregon. For the approval, he agreed to 34 raptor mitigation measures, including monitoring bird fatalities for one year and wrapping the lattice towers in fibreglass to prevent the raptors from perching near the rotor blades. That is not enough for Dennis White of the Columbia River Gorge Chapter of the Audubon Society. His group wants to push the project eastward beyond the area where raptors live and over-winter.

"This is the kind of project our organisation likes to support," says White. "It's small, rural, entrepreneurial, decentralised and it sells the output to a local utility. It's the right project, but it's in the wrong place."

White, who believes one bird fatality is too many, says he will appeal the county's decision. If that does not work, he will monitor the project to make sure it complies with the three federal laws that protect raptors: the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The latter two, he says, do not allow any bird fatalities. "We're going to be there every year watching those turbines," White says. "We've counted as many as 280 raptors, 13 varieties of them, all in one day. There's a tremendous density."

Kitchen says there have been four bird studies in the area -- two by the Audubon Society. "The turbines will cover less than 500 feet of ridge," he says. "It is volcanic basalt and there is no water. You can't grow anything on it and there is nothing for the raptors to feed on."

The site is located in the Goodnoe Hills south east of Goldendale, Washington, an area of the Columbia River Gorge with some of the best sustained winds in the Northwest, with annual averages of about 7.5 m/s and spring and summer winds averaging 8.5 m/s, according to Kitchen. Yet the hills continue to be bare of wind turbines, evidence of the success the Audubon Society and other groups such as the Indigenous Support Coalition of Oregon (Windpower Monthly, April 2000).

IN FEAR OF LITIGATION

Kitchen's project site, once the home to several US Department of Energy wind turbines removed in the early 1990s, will be located alongside the intended site for a now-defunct 25 MW project at Juniper Point proposed jointly by the Conservation and Renewable Energy System and the Bonneville Power Administration. That project's landowner backed out, fearing litigation if even one raptor was killed. A proposed 230 MW Enron Wind project site, which is even closer to Kitchen's area, still lies fallow.

A challenge to the conditional use permit could stop construction, but it would require the Audubon Society to post a $500,000 bond, according to Kitchen. He believes that White's only remaining grounds for a challenge would be a procedural mistake by the County. White, on the other hand, believes a challenge could still be mounted based on potential damage to birds.

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