Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council Takes on Changes to its Amendment Processes

How do you increase opportunities for public participation in a process without adding significant time and complexity? That is the issue Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council has been grappling with over the past few years as it looks to update its administrative rules for making amendments to the site certificates issued for large-scale energy facilities.

Site certificates are the state approval necessary to construct and operate energy facilities. After the owners of such a facility get a site certificate from EFSC, they may later want to change some aspect of the facility. Most changes require an amendment to the site certificate.

EFSC at Hood River

It’s only natural for those owners to want EFSC to review and approve the proposed changes as swiftly as possible. It’s also understandable for residents near a facility to want to give their input on the proposed changes, just as they might want to chime in on a proposed shopping center or high school.

EFSC’s current amendment processes work fairly well for facilities with a relatively small footprint, such as a natural gas plant. Facilities with small footprints often have an easier time meeting EFSC’s standards for approval compared to those with larger footprints.

“The process was built on gas plants that are typically 20 to 40 acres,” explains Todd Cornett, Assistant Director of the Siting Division in the Oregon Department of Energy. The Siting Division serves as staff to EFSC.

Calpine Hermiston Inc. (6) for blog

But proposed expansions of site boundaries, particularly large-scale expansions like the ones that have been submitted for wind farms, can have significant impacts. In addition, large-scale expansions often draw more attention from the public, in part because they tend to have more adjacent property owners. The average site boundary of the past five wind farms EFSC has approved is just under 20,000 acres.

“When we started this review of the amendment processes, there was a lot of concern around the wind facilities,” says Cornett. “Some of these facilities required significant amendments. There were also many requests to extend the deadlines for beginning construction, so for members of the public who opposed these facilities, there was no finality.

“The ‘not knowing’ is a significant impact. One facility has gone through three requests to extend construction deadlines and each of those extensions were for two years.” For this example, between the original three-year deadline and the three extension requests, the developer has been given nine years from the date of the approval to begin construction.

Other ‘large footprint’ energy facilities are starting to trickle in, too. In 2016, EFSC saw its first solar electric proposal. The Boardman Solar Energy Facility is planned to sit on about 600 acres of land bordering Interstate 84 in the northwest corner of Morrow County, which is home to several EFSC-approved facilities.

“The difficulty is finding a single review process that accommodates all the different types of potential proposed changes from the wide variety of energy facilities within our jurisdiction,” says Cornett. “Our review will always evaluate proposed changes against EFSC’s standards. This rulemaking addresses the process by which we evaluate them, and how we include the public in that review.” One of the more significant details of the proposed changes would add a mandatory public hearing to one of the review processes, something that is not required under any of the existing review processes.

As it weighs these challenging and complex issues, EFSC has sought input from stakeholders, with several in-depth meetings and a lengthy hearing in July. A handful of entities – from utilities to developers to the public – have consistently waded through the nitty-gritty details of the proposed rule changes, and they are anticipated to continue doing so during the final written comment period.

The rulemaking process proposing to change the rules for how requests for amendments are reviewed and approved will continue at the next EFSC meeting on September 21-22 in Boardman, where staff will present an informational update to EFSC. The Council will also address this rulemaking at its October 19-20 meeting, where it could make a final decision after considering all the comments on the record.

 

4 thoughts on “Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council Takes on Changes to its Amendment Processes

  1. This article is very misleading, The proposed changes are focused almost entirely on changes that the Oregon Department of Energy wanted that reduce the opportunity for the public to have input, increase the time and cost of the process, deny the public any opportunity for challenging decisions of the council other than going directly to the Oregon Supreme Court in many instances, and continue the decision process that has resulted in them allowing NO CONTESTED CASES TO BE HEARD on amendment requests. The proposal places additional barriers before the public in terms of a more complicated and confusing procedure with the same outcomes, and in many instances will result in changes being made by developers and approved by the Department of Energy with no amendment even being processed. Hopefully the public will respond to these changes, however, the Department of Energy is not even making their newest changes available to the public until September 8.

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    • Thanks for your comments! We took on this rulemaking because we agree that more and better-defined public involvement will improve the amendment process for everyone. The current draft of the rules includes a mandatory public hearing before the Council for the most significant amendments to facility site certificates, and a better ability to make changes to the final decision based on public comments. We think these changes are a step in the right direction.

      The Council will continue to hear and consider other ideas at its next hearing on the subject in October. Please remember to submit your written comments as early as possible because there will not be an oral comment period. Here’s how anyone interested in this rulemaking can get involved: http://www.oregon.gov/energy/Get-Involved/Pages/Energy-Facility-Siting-Council-Rulemaking.aspx#SiteCertificate

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      • Public hearings are only meaningful when actual changes occur as a result of a person’s 3 minutes before the council. The only way the process will improve is by allowing people to access the contested case process without having to go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court which is financially out of reach of most people. If you recall, 6 years ago when this revision was first requested, the purpose was to address this need. Conflict regarding the public’s lack of access to contested cases and the fact that the Department of Energy and Energy Facility Siting Council control who the hearings officer is as well as the fact that the Energy Facility Siting Council issue the rulings on all contested cases regarding decisions they make means there will never be a true contested case process within the Department.

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