Several farmers have complained to Oregon energy regulators that wind turbine construction in Sherman County has caused severe erosion and other problems.
A letter from 11 farmers to the state’s Energy Facility Siting Council alleges that developer Avangrid Renewables has failed to comply with requirements for building the Golden Hills Wind Project, which will include up to 51 turbines on 29,500 acres.
“We’ve lost more soil in the last two months than we have in 30 years,” said David Pinkerton, a wheat farmer who leases property to the developer. “They’re not doing what they said they were going to do.”
The wind project was initially approved by EFSC in 2009 but construction only began this year after repeated amendments to the development plan.
According to the letter from farmers, the project is damaging more farmland than envisioned, with soil disturbances around each tower site ranging from about 10 to 15 acres, rather than 3 acres.
“It’s killing so much more farmland than I thought they would,” Pinkerton said.
The farmers also claimed that construction proceeded at “full speed regardless of weather conditions,” which has caused soil loss when wind gusts topped 40 mph.
“To this point, no topsoil has been protected with either tarps or mulch, leaving it exposed to wind erosion,” the letter said.
Due to the design and layout of the facility, some land will no longer be fit for cultivation because the parcels will be too small to accommodate machinery or to farm efficiently, the letter said.
Roads between the tower sites have been awkwardly laid out so that narrow strips of land are left at the property edge, Pinkerton said.
“You can’t farm what’s left in between,” he said. “It’s absolutely brutal.”
Soil compaction from cranes weighing more than 2 million pounds will also adversely affect farm productivity, the letter said.
“In conclusion, we believe that the Golden Hills Project is out of compliance on many levels and has made no attempts to minimize and mitigate the damages to surrounding farmland acreage,” the letter said.
Pinkerton said he regrets signing a lease to construct turbines on his property more than two decades ago, though he remains hopeful the developer will find a way to rectify the situation.
“The income from windmills is peanuts compared to farming” with the strong current wheat prices, he said.
The state’s Department of Energy has conducted a site visit and is reviewing submitted documents to determine if the developer violated any conditions of approval, the agency said.
Capital Press was unable to contact the project’s manager or a representative of Avangrid Renewables for comment.
In a response to the complaint sent to EFSC, the developer said it takes complaints seriously and wants to “set high standards during construction.”
The company has reorganized construction activities to limit new ground disturbances, stabilized piles of soil, increased the amount of water used for dust control, and reduced dust by applying gravel to new roads, the response letter said.
Straw mulch and plastic sheeting aren’t effective for soil stabilization at the site because they’re blown away by the wind, while chemical agents can’t be used on farmland, the company said. For that reason, it’s relying on watering and maintaining low slope angles.
The developer said it’s designed the facility to “minimize impacts on dryland wheat farming” and will be implementing mitigation measures such as restoring drainage contours, the response letter said.
All the turbine locations, access corridors and the “limits of disturbance associated with construction activity” were “vetted and approved” according to EFSC’s rules, the company said.