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For Oregon Wind Project, the Balance Between Preservation, Clean Energy Infrastructure is Paramount

Steens Mountain

The U.S. Department of Interior’s fight to build a stronger clean energy infrastructure has taken a small step forward thanks to recent federal approval of a 46-mile, 230-kilovolt transmission line that will connect to the proposed $300 million Echanis wind project wind in the high desert of Harney County, Oregon. Debate is still split on the subject in Oregon where people are trying to find a balance between preserving nature and bringing jobs to the area.

According to the Daily Journal of Commerce, 40 to 60 turbines will be located on a private wind farm near the town of Diamond. The project will create mostly temporary jobs but creates the opportunity for more jobs if there is industry growth, according to Harney County economic development director Randy Fulton:

“At one time we had over 1,000 mill working jobs; now we’re down to zero. Any economic boost to the depressed area here will help.”

In the project’s path is the well meaning Oregon Natural Desert Association, an environmental group with the stated goal of preserving the Oregon High Desert. The group that is usually in favor of clean energy projects has some reservations about the future size of the project and how it will affect the preserved environment. In 2000, a law was passed that designated 400,000 acres around Steens Mountain as a Cooperative Management and Protection Area. The turbines, though, will be located on private property outside this 400,000 acre area.

Although the developer, Columbia Energy Partners, has scaled back their initial plans, the project is still likely to bring a boon to industry in the area:

Fulton views the Echanis wind effort as a major victory that can provide a gateway to more activity in Harney County. A Portland-area company has expressed serious interest in establishing a manufacturing plant in Harney County. Fulton declined to name the company, but said the plant would bring as many as 235 full-time jobs to the area.

“It would be nice for other companies to start seeing some activity in town,” [Fulton] said.

The transmission line and wind farm are expected to provide 219 temporary jobs during peak construction, according to the Department of the Interior, and 16 permanent jobs once the facility is operational. Also, the projects are expected to generate $4.5 million in local tax revenues over 40 years.

“Temporary jobs are OK when you have people in town who have been on unemployment for as many extensions as they can get,” Fulton said. “Then if this manufacturing company did make the decision to come here – it would be a nice transformation from construction workers into plant workers.”

If clean energy infrastructure is going to blossom, the nation must find a balance between preservation and industry growth. In the long-term, the benefits can be reaped by the environment. These are hard decisions to make and precedent will be set by projects like Echanis. The area has a natural resource it needs to take advantage of, both to stay ahead of the game and to bring jobs to an area that desperately needs them.


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