On Aug. 1, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of a coalition of nine conservation organizations, led by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, invalidating rules adopted in 2017 by the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC).
The decision is expected to invalidate two, among others, controversial power projects — the Perennial Wind Chaser Station in Umatilla County and the Summit Ridge Wind Farm in Wasco County.
“Our conclusion is that none of the amendments applied for since that 2017 date can be processed further since all are filed under invalid rules,” said Nathan Baker, senior staff attorney for Friends. “A state agency cannot apply invalid rules and certainly cannot approve projects under said invalid rules.”
The decision is expected to terminate the amendment application of Summit Ridge Wind Farm, owned by Pattern Energy, who had applied for an extension to their construction dates. The controversy surrounding Summit Ridge involved wildlife surveys deemed outdated by Friends, as well as risks to the environment and wildlife habitats. Whether Pattern will submit a new application to further pursue the project remains unknown.
“Nobody knows for sure whether Pattern will reapply,” said Baker. “But what we have observed since they purchased the project, they have put in minimal effort in proceeding with it. They haven’t updated wildlife surveys, have barely participated in hearings or public meetings over the last couple of years. It seems unlikely that they file a new application after 10 years since the initial application; if the project were worthwhile and viable, it would have been built.”
While the court’s decision has been issued, how the different state agencies will proceed is also unclear. In an email exchange between Gary Kahn, a lawyer at Reeves, Kahn, Hennessy & Elkins who filed the briefs and argued the case for the petitioners, and Patrick Rowe, Sr. Assistant Attorney General for the Oregon Department of Justice, Kahn asked for confirmation that “all pending applications filed pursuant to the invalidated rules will not be processed any further, and will not be approved.”
Kahn asked for a response prior to the end of business day on Aug. 2, due to a deadline to request a contested case in the Summit Ridge matter approaching on Aug. 5. If the Oregon Department of Energy decides to continue processing the pending applications despite the court’s decision, and their decision is made after the deadline, then no request for a contested case will be possible on Summit Ridge, though an appeal of the matter could still be pursued back to the supreme court.
Rowe’s response stated that the DOJ and ODOE had begun evaluating the Court’s decision and assessing how ODOE will handle application currently being processed.
“We will not have completed that evaluation nor reached any decisions prior to the deadline for the second opportunity to request a contested case in the Summit Ridge Wind Farm matter,” wrote Rowe.
Pattern Energy, per Matt Dallas, responded in an email saying they have no comment on the matter.
Friends group makes statement on ruling
The Summit Ridge project originally proposed in 2009 to be sited in Wasco County along the Lower Deschutes Wild and Scenic River. The project was acquired by Pattern Energy Group in 2017 after being abandoned by the original developer, said a Friends of the Gorge press release.
In 2018 and 2019, Pattern sought a third round of extensions of the construction deadlines for the project, but refused to update baseline surveys and data regarding the project’s potential impacts to birds, bats, and wildlife habitat, said the press release.
“The proposed Summit Ridge wind energy project threatened bald eagles, golden eagles and several other important bird and bat species,” said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild, in the press release.
“Despite these threats, Pattern Energy refused to update the outdated wildlife surveys and data — many of which were a decade old — so that the agencies and the public would fully understand the project’s impacts to eagles and other wildlife. Oregon Wild is relieved to know that this poorly planned project is expected to be terminated as a result of today’s court ruling.”
“Friends supports well-planned renewable energy projects and full public transparency,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “Unfortunately, the Summit Ridge project was neither well-planned nor ensured full transparency. This massive wind energy project would have been built on the canyon rim above the Lower Deschutes Wild and Scenic River and in full view from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, harming the scenic beauty and sensitive wildlife that Oregonians have fought so hard to protect.”