Even though part of its project has been remanded back to the County by the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), Obsidian Renewables is confident about the entirety of its project as it goes before the Oregon Department of Energy at a public comment meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 23, at the Christmas Valley Community Hall starting at 5:30 p.m.
The meeting is to receive public comment about the larger 3,921 acre project in Christmas Valley which would produce 400MW of solar energy by 2023, while the remand from LUBA was about two smaller 600 acre parcels. In its ruling LUBA determined that the Lake County Board of Commissioners did not properly follow land use planning rules in determining whether or not Obsidian could begin work on the project at the two smaller sites. After months of negotiation between Obsidian, local ranchers, and ODFW stalled; Obsidian went before the Lake County Board of Commissioners in November 2019 seeking for the County to make a final determination on mitigation measures. As the County is allowed to due under Rule 13. After the County approved mitigation on the two smaller parcels, both the ODFW and local ranchers appealed the project to LUBA. This was in an effort by Obsidian to break ground on the project so they could capture 2019 tax credits. The credits are going down in 2020. Though the larger project is still under review by the Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC).
In its ruling LUBA also noted that the mitigation plans did not adequately address big game, rodent and sage grouse issues and that it should be reconsidered. Many of the landowners complained it would affect big game habitat and that the animals would then go their property and damage crops, along with rodents who are impacted by the construction site. LUBA felt that the mitigation plan approved by the County did not meet the standards of mitigating wildlife impacts.
Now with EFSC looking for public comment by June 23, Obsidian and the County are holding off on the remand as it could become moot depending on how the EFSC decides.
While no decision will be made at the meeting, it will be overseen by an administrative law judge. The public comment is important for the EFSC as they make their final report. By Friday, June 26, a draft of the public comments will be developed for the EFSC council, who will then begin the process of drafting a final proposed order about the Obsidian site. The final proposed order outcome will affect whether Obsidian decides to work on the remand, according to Elaine Albrich, attorney for Obsidian Renewables at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
Even though the project is before the EFSC, and part of the project has been remanded, Albrich said that they are still working with ODFW on mitigating the various wildlife issues, and that they are getting close to having a final deal in place.
“We are just waiting for the final comments from ODFW about the mitigation plan for the larger project,” said Albrich.
In response to many of the claims made by ranchers and farmers near the project Obsidian said they have conducted numerous studies on dust, erosion, animals migration, and more in an effort to address all the issues raised. Obsidian and Albrich said there will be no permanent issues, and that many of the issues raised are temporary and many of the animals people are concerned about will go back to the project site after construction is over.
“We are optimistic about the project and its chance at success with the EFSC. We are anxious to have the hearing and public comment about the project,” said Albrich.
People can respond either in person, via the webinar, email or by letter. The Christmas Valley Community Hall is located at 87345 Holly Ln., Christmas Valley.