A months-long stand-off came to a close today after the Deputy Secretary of Defense informed U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) that the Pentagon would no longer block construction of the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon's Gilliam and Morrow counties and would instead upgrade a nearby radar system which had until now put the project's future in doubt. The announcement would also eliminate the threat to other planned wind farms in the area that is adjacent to the Columbia River.
"In allowing this project to go forward both the White House and the Pentagon have underscored their commitment to U.S. energy security," said Wyden. "As I have said throughout this effort, blocking this project would have had a chilling-effect not just on Shepherd's Flat but on private investment in new energy projects across the country. As a member of both the Senate Committees on Energy and Intelligence, I am convinced that national security and energy security are not only compatible they are one and the same."
"The Department of Defense's earlier decision threatened to drop a bomb on job creation in Central Oregon. Today's decision defused that bomb. This is great news for thousands of families who will earn a paycheck because of work on this project. And it will help contribute to Oregon's emergence as a global leader in clean energy production," Merkley said. "I thank the Department of Defense for resolving this issue and responding to our concerns about the negative effect that shutting down this project would have had on the Oregon economy."
"This is a major relief for the landowners, business owners, and community members who endured weeks of nerve-wracking uncertainty over the future of the project," Walden said. "They deserve credit for remaining patient and engaged. Going forward, Congress must work on reforming this process to provide smoother siting while protecting security and aviation. Our great state can and should play a role in a strong national defense and be a leader in our country's smarter energy future at the same time."
If completed, the Shepherds Flat wind farm will be the largest land-based wind energy project in the world, producing 845 megawatts of power, which is the equivalent of a nuclear power plant. At the beginning of March, days before the project was slated to begin construction, the Pentagon brought the project to a halt citing its concerns that wind turbines could interfere with a 50-year old radar system located in nearby Fossil, Oregon. Oregon's congressional delegation has spent the last two months pressing both the White House and Department of Defense (DoD) to discuss ways that the Pentagon's concerns might be addressed without halting new green energy construction.
DoD's announcement today will allow the FAA -- which on behalf of the Pentagon had formally placed the project on hold -- to remove all "notices of presumed hazard" thus clearing the way for Caithness Energy to begin hiring the more than 700 construction workers that will be needed to build Shepherds Flat. While clearing the way for Shepherds Flat, today's decision still leaves undetermined how future projects may be affected. Oregon's representatives intend to keep working with DoD to ensure that national security objectives are met while not impeding efforts to increase energy independence and promote job creation.