Tonkon Torp Obtains First-of-its-Kind Site Certificate for Oregon Wind Facility

Tonkon Torp successfully concluded a complex site certification process for the original owners of local wind developer Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC. The firm began representing Wheatridge upon its formation eight years ago, initially assisting the client to obtain land rights and evaluate title issues for a 500 MW wind energy facility (valued at $750 million) in Morrow and Umatilla Counties, Oregon. Beginning in 2013, Tonkon Torp helped Wheatridge file and process its site certification application with the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council to construct the project. Tonkon’s project team was led by David Petersen, chair of Tonkon Torp’s Real Estate & Land Use Practice Group and a member of the firm’s Energy Law Practice Group.

The site certificate process presented unique issues related to energy transmission because practical and political issues constrained available transmission corridors in the area. So, Wheatridge sought a certificate that did not propose a specific corridor for its transmission line that would connect the project to the transmission grid near the Columbia River, instead leaving flexibility to identify and permit transmission at a later date.

This was the first wind energy project presented to the Siting Council without a specific transmission corridor identified. This triggered opposition by a local citizen’s group and Umatilla County, resulting in a contested case before an administrative hearings officer. Opponents of the project challenged the legality of issuing a site certificate without an identified transmission corridor, but Mr. Petersen and litigator Sarah Einowski successfully obtained summary judgment defeating the opponents’ claims. The Siting Council agreed with Wheatridge that the transmission line was not a necessary component of the site certificate application, thereby enabling Wheatridge to avoid protracted discovery and to accelerate its development timeline significantly.

This appears to be the first successful resolution of a Siting Council contested case on summary judgment. The wind project was subsequently sold, and the new developer has moved on to the next phase of development.

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