General Electric has signed a $1.4 billion deal to build wind turbines for the Shepherd's Flat Wind Facility.

GE President Steve Bolze said in a press release the company will produce 338 of it’s newest 2.5-megawatt turbines for the project, which will spread across 30 square miles in Morrow and Gilliam counties.

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With 2.5-megawatt turbines, Shepherd’s Flat will have more turbines but produce less electricity than originally planned. The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council initially approved the project with 303 turbines generating up to 909 megawatts.

Shepherd’s Flat will probably break ground next year; in its press release, GE said it expected the turbines to be installed in 2011 and 2012.

GE will assemble the turbines in its Pensacola, Fla. factory. GE will also provide 10 years of operational and maintenance support to the wind farm.

Shepherd’s Flat, with an estimated value of $2 billion, will be the largest wind farm in Oregon and one of the largest in the United States.

For Morrow County, the project means more than $2 million per year in taxes for the first 15 years of operation, according to its arrangement with the county called a strategic investment plan or SIP.

The New York-based company that is developing Shepherd’s Flat, Caithness, also signed a SIP with Gilliam County, where it will pay more than $5 million in taxes per year. Caithness has said it will create $16 million in annual economic benefit for Oregon.

Morrow County Planning Director Carla McLane said Shepherd’s Flat does not count as economic development in the same way as, say, a new factory at the Port of Morrow, because it will not employ a large number of people, McLane said.

“With wind farms, it’s a different scenario,” she said, “It’s an energy producing facility that doesn’t require a lot of human interaction.”

But Shepherd’s Flat will be of economic benefit in the short run, and it will benefit the county through taxes, she said.

During the two-year construction phase, which will include building 85 miles of road and 90 miles of connections to the power grid, the project will employ 500 workers. After construction, it will employ 35 people full time.

Caithness has already signed power purchase agreements with a California utility, Southern California Edison, for Shepherd’s Flat’s energy. The wind farm will power more than 235,000 homes.

In Morrow County, the project has spawned at least one new locally-owned aggregate site, which will produce rock for the wind farm’s roads and turbine bases.

McLane said, beyond the economic changes, Shepherd’s Flat may stir up discussion about how wind development changes the county. “I don’t think you can avoid the fact that the landscape looks different,” McLane said. “And that difference, whether you like it or don’t like it, is really a personal thing.”

Caithness must still secure conditional use and zoning permits from the county, McLane added.

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