PGE to pay Columbia County for wind farm planning costs

A line of wind turbines frame a shot for a photographer in the wind farm hills above Wallula Junction during a recent sunset.       October 18, 2010

A line of wind turbines frame a shot for a photographer in the wind farm hills above Wallula Junction during a recent sunset. October 18, 2010 Jeff Horner

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Portland General Electric has signed an agreement to reimburse Columbia County for planning costs related to the permitting of the Tucannon River Wind Farm.

County officials will meet with the utility on Wednesday afternoon to go over details of the wind-driven electricity generating project, including a map of the site.

To start the reimbursement process, PGE has made a preliminary payment of $30,000 to the county, which planner Kim Lyonnais said has been used to hire a full-time planning technician who will help oversee the permitting process.

The county has also bought permit tracking software to help coordinate the high volume of permits it will be handling.

Once planning for the wind farm is completed, Lyonnais said the technician would remain on staff to help with the county’s rewrite of its shoreline master plan, a document the state Department of Ecology is requiring counties and cities to update.

Under the terms of the cost-sharing agreement, the utility will reimburse Columbia County for costs that are directly associated with the county’s review of permits for the wind farm.

These costs include wages and payroll benefits for staff members working on permit applications, as well as travel expenses, third-party services and any special equipment needed to process applications.

In addition, the utility will pay an administrative charge equal to 15 percent of the wage costs it reimburses.

These funds are intended to cover a variety of other costs to the county, including space rental, telephone and postage expenses, the preparation of public information related to the project and equipment maintenance.

PGE has not announced a specific date to break ground on the project, but construction must begin by the end of the year to qualify for federal renewable energy tax credits.

The company said it has ordered 116 wind turbines from Siemens Energy but did not yet know exactly when the turbines would be arriving on-site or when installation would begin.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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