Environmentalists Sue to Block Oregon Wind Project

Published June 11, 2012

Two Oregon-based environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit to block construction of a huge wind farm atop Steens Mountain in rural Harney County.

Gaming the Renewable Energy System

In the suit, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Natural Desert Association say “energy speculators willing to game the system and take advantage of the state’s strong renewable energy mandates” threaten to “radically transform significant portions of terrestrial landscape.”  

The “energy speculators” the groups have targeted are Columbia Energy Partners, which plans to develop the proposed $300 million Echanis Wind Project in southeastern Oregon. Upon completion, the project will feature between 40 and 60 415-foot-high turbines on 10,000 acres of private ranch land. The Echanis project is one of two wind farms proposed for locations on or near 9,733-foot Steens Mountain.  

In an interesting twist, the power generated at Steens Mountain would not go to homes in Oregon but would be sent over power lines to California. Both states have renewable energy mandates, and the electricity produced at Steens Mountain would help meet both states’ renewable energy requirements. 

‘Worst Place’ for Wind Development

If the two green groups have their way, California and Oregon will have to look elsewhere to meet their renewable energy mandates.  

Portland Audubon and Oregon Natural Desert say the Steens Mountain site is one of the most environmentally damaging locations to construct wind power facilities.

“Of all the places in Oregon’s high desert, this is perhaps the worst place for wind development,” Brent Fenty, executive director of ONDA, told The Oregonian as reported on May 2. 

Audubon and Oregon Natural Desert note the Oregon project’s turbines, access roads, and transmission lines would scar the natural beauty of the area and threaten migratory routes of bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and sage grouse.

Illusive ‘Green’ Energy

Like controversial wind-farm projects elsewhere in the nation, the dispute over Steens Mountain has widened fissures within the environmental movement. 

“The opposition to wind power in Oregon shows that many environmental activists are not just opposed to oil, coal, and natural gas but to any new energy development,” said Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research. 

“For years, environmentalists have supported wind power and other renewable sources of energy. But once one of these projects is on the verge of being developed, activists suddenly find reasons to oppose them,” Simmons observed. “It makes you wonder of the whole thing isn’t a bait-and-switch.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.