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. 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 extraordinarily high conflict; and the lack of sufficient analysis by the Department of the Interior 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 Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area (CMPA) — an area designed fifteen years ago by Congress to be preserved in its natural and historic character — and giant spinning turbines and blinking lights would ruin the wilderness experience, dark night skies, and uninterrupted sagebrush landscape 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 tacit acknowledgement that the CMPA is not appropriate for energy development should be seen as step in the right direction for Steens Mountain protection.
Nevertheless, despite stating that it does not plan to develop the East and West Ridge sites, the developer 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. BLM granted the developer a right-of-way for the line, which means the agency 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.