What is Steens Wind? The "Steens Wind" proposal, also known as the Greater Echanis Project, is proposed by the Washington-based developer Columbia Energy Partners and would place industrial sized wind turbine arrays near the ridgeline of Steens Mountain and Riddle Mountain (north of Steens). All electricity from this project would be provided to Southern California. In doing so, this project would cut into the heart of Oregon's sage-grouse, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and raptor habitat. The wildlife and scenic impacts associated with this project make it extremely high conflict; and the lack of sufficient analysis by the BLM makes it something ONDA needs to address.
It has been a long fight. Since 2008, ONDA and our partners have worked tirelessly to communicate that this project is sited in an inappropriate place for industrial development. The transmission line would cut through the Steens Cooperative Management and Protection Area (CMPA)—an area designed by Congress to be preserved for its natural and historic character—and the spinning turbines and blinking lights would ruin the wilderness experience are dark night skies that many of us cherish. ONDA and partner organizations have commented on every step of NEPA analysis and wrote a letter to Secretary Salazar asking that the project not move forward.
In November 2011, Columbia Energy Partners announced that they will not pursue wind energy development on the East and West Ridge sites within the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area (CMPA). Their acknowledgement that the CMPA is not appropriate for energy development should be seen as step in the right direction for Steens Mountain protection. However, despite the positive step forward for Steens Mountain protection, it is important to understand that this is not the end of the proposal for wind development on Steens Mountain.
Although stating that they do not plan to develop the East and West Ridge sites, Columbia Energy Partners (CEP) has done nothing to ensure that these lands will not be developed for wind energy in the future. Instead, CEP still proposes to build a North Steens 230-kV Transmission Line which would allow for the Echanis Project and other wind development on Steens Mountain. This line recently received a right-of-way by the BLM, which means the BLM has given the developer consent to build.
The proposed transmission line has several times the capacity needed for the single Echanis site, and the proposed line would be immediately adjacent to the East and West Ridge sites. With this kind of transmission capacity, development is still a real threat in the future. Without permanent protections there is no guarantee that development will not occur.
Columbia Energy Partners still intends to pursue development on Steens Mountain and Riddle Mountain—both areas are home to sensitive wildlife such as golden eagles and sage-grouse. We remain concerned that the BLM did not fully disclose all the impacts associated with this proposed development within the final environmental impact statement
and we plan to remain in firm opposition to this project. On April 5, 2012 Portland Audubon joined ONDA in a lawsuit against the Secretary of Interior
for approving this irresponsible project.