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West Butte Wind Farm project awaits new ownership
Managing partners of the proposed Crook County facility have suspended permitting efforts with the intent to sell it
January 24, 2013
Nearly four years after receiving Crook County Planning Commission approval, the West Butte Wind Farm project has stalled amid potential ownership changes.
“People have been looking at buying out the company,” said Crook County Planning Director Bill Zelenka. “I think there has been interest, and they want to sell it.”
The Bulletin recently reported that John Stahl of Pacific Wind Power, LLC and Aaron Rachlin of R-Squared began planning the local wind farm as a joint venture about five and a half years ago. The two partners have since had a falling out and Stahl is no longer a managing partner.
Attempts to reach Stahl and Rachlin were unsuccessful by press deadline.
Zelenka noted that people have called the County Planning Department during the past few months asking about the status of the wind farm project. “How much is left to do? What kinds of permits are needed? What kind of process they have to go through to develop the facility?” he offered as some examples. The callers have not revealed who they are or what their plans might be.
The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) were also led to believe that the project managers intend to sell the company. Jerry Cordova, a USFWS fish and wildlife biologist, said that the project managers sought a golden eagle programmatic permit.
“It allows for the unintentional take (killing) of eagles over a certain period of time for the project,” he explained.
The Department completed an Environmental Assessment of the property this past fall in order to satisfy NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements and enable them to provide the permit. However, the project managers asked them not issue the permit at this time.
“Apparently, they are in the process of potentially selling the project to an interested buyer,” Cordova said. “We were in position to issue the permit, but they don’t really want it at this time.”
The project also awaits further approval from the BLM before construction can begin on transmission lines and a 12-mile access road that cuts across a portion of BLM property.
“We have sent them right-of-way, so they can sign that and pay their rental on the access road,” said Steve Robertson, associate district manager for the Prineville District office. “And then before they actually construct . . . there is a notice to proceed. They do have to do some things prior to that. They have some wildlife mitigation that they need to work out.”
Local officials had expected construction on the wind farm to begin long before now, and the wait has caused their confidence in the project to waver.
“It’s certainly bothersome as far as what it could do in the way of additional jobs and taxes,” said Crook County Judge Mike McCabe. The project was expected to create up to 70 local jobs with another 345 workers needed to provide supplies, materials, support, and other offsite services. In addition, Crook County would earn about $1 million in annual property tax revenue after state-designated renewable energy zone exemptions expire.
Zelenka meanwhile said he has no clue about the future of the wind farm. Even if the project management resolved all of the permitting issues, he pointed out that the wind farm still needs a power purchase agreement.
“I think that is the biggest issue for them,” he said.
At this point, the County no longer controls the future of the wind farm. Zelenka said the County has taken care of their end of the permitting process and would like to see construction begin.
McCabe feels the same way and although his confidence in the project is waning, he remains hopeful.
“It just needs to go forward somehow if it can,” he said, “and some day it will.”