Steens Wind (ONDA v. Salazar)
In December of 2011, the Secretary of the Interior approved a plan allowing the developer to build up to 70 wind turbines and a high-capacity transmission line on the remote and iconic mountain, located in southeast Oregon. The lawsuit seeks to block what the conservation groups claim is an illegal project by the Department of the Interior that would forever change an otherwise wild and beautiful landscape.
Several recent developments have dealt significant blows to the financial and technical feasibility of the project. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently cancelled CEP’s authority to begin development of the project. In February of 2013, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) informed the groups that CEP has withdrawn its application to connect to the BPA power grid, meaning that CEP is unable to deliver power generated by the project. In December 2012, attorneys representing CEP in a legal challenge to the development abruptly withdrew, leaving CEP unrepresented. And given these developments, it is uncertain whether the Power Purchase Agreement for the project—the agreement CEP had to sell the power to California—remains intact.
In March of 2013, ONDA and the Audubon Society of Portland filed a petition requesting U.S. Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, to revoke the December 2011 Record of Decision allowing industrial scale wind development on Steens Mountain. The crumbling financial and regulatory framework for a proposed industrial wind facility on Steens Mountain has spurred on conservationists to petition the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw its approval of the project.
Transmission lines for the project would cut across an area protected by Congress in 2000 and the project would fragment one of the largest undeveloped landscapes left in the Great Basin. Wind turbines, transmission lines, access roads and associated development pose threats to migratory routes and breeding areas for sensitive species such as bighorn sheep, Golden eagles, and Greater sage-grouse, a bird recently recognized by the Department of the Interior’s own Fish and Wildlife Service as being in danger of extinction, due primarily to
fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat.