Everybody - well, almost - loves green energy. It holds the promise of cutting our reliance on imported oil, making our environment cleaner and reducing global warming.
But all colors of green are not the same, and a wind energy project being pushed in southeastern Oregon near Steens Mountain is a rather noxious shade.
Actually, to be technical, it's three wind energy projects, not one. Under state law, any project that will generate 105 megawatts of power or more has to be reviewed by the state Energy Facility Siting Committee. So the developers of the Steens project, a Washington-based outfit called Columbia Energy Partners, have set up three dummy corporations and are presenting proposals for three separate "wind farms," each producing 104 megawatts.
That way they think they can do an end run around the state regulators and simply get land use approvals from Harney County, which will be a lot easier - no impoverished rural Oregon county is going to turn down anything that might bring a few jobs and tax dollars.
The attempted end run around the state isn't the only sneaky thing about this project. "The developer has provided none of the biological or viewshed data that a wind energy project typically would provide," said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association.
At this point ONDA doesn't even know how many giant wind turbines there will be or where they'll be located, Fenty added: "We haven't seen any information regarding what the exact layout of this project would look like."
ONDA is worried not just about the way the wind farm will look - it will be right next door to the Steens Mountain Wilderness and visible from the crest of Steens Mountain - but also, just as importantly, its impact on wildlife including deer, elk, bighorn and pronghorn sheep, raptors and the sage grouse, a bird currently being considered for endangered species status.
And besides the effects of the wind turbines themselves, ONDA is concerned about the environmental impacts of the roads that will be built to reach the site and the transmission lines that will carry the power, which will run across the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Fenty emphasized that ONDA supports green energy in principle, but that each project needs to be judged on its individual merits. "We have made it very clear throughout that we are very supportive of alternative energy development," he said. "But we will not give a free pass to a project just because it's, quote-unquote, 'green energy.'"
When we spoke with Fenty he said ONDA was waiting to get more information before making up its mind whether to support or oppose the Steens wind farm project. Speaking for ourselves, though, we've already heard enough.
There are millions upon millions of empty, windy acres across eastern Oregon, Washington, Idaho and the rest of the intermountain West where wind farms can be sited without threatening a priceless and irreplaceable scenic and biological resource like Steens Mountain. This idea hereby gets THE BOOT.