HEPPNER, Oregon – The Morrow County Board of Commissioners approved the signing of an amended Strategic Investment Program agreement between the county and Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC and Wheatridge Solar Energy Center LLC. The amended agreement allows for the addition of up to 150 megawatts of solar electricity to be added to the wind energy project, which has a potential of 450 megawatts. If the solar and wind project is fully built out, the agreement could lead to nearly $5 million dollars each year in payments for the 15-year agreement.
Commissioner Jim Doherty led the negotiations that led to the new agreement for what could be a huge alternative energy source.
“The solar component and the battery component will actually make this the largest in the United States and potentially the world at full build out,” he said.
Doherty said he had to do a lot of studying to become an expert on the alternative energy sources. It was a tough job, but he said it will pay dividends to Morrow County’s schools.
“With landowners, constituents, and potential future renewable interests looking on, we needed to set the standard,” he said. “It was no less daunting that we were tasked with understanding emerging technologies and the values to Morrow County of this one-of-a-kind energy project.”
Also working on the agreement were County Counsel Justin Nelson, Assessor Mike Gorman, and Administrator Darrell Green.
The amended SIP agreement continues the prior provisions that provide substantial funding each year for the Morrow County School District and the Ione School District. Doherty is excited by that would mean because the funding is earmarked to include a new letter in the current acronym of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In Morrow County the funds are earmarked to institute a STEAM program, standing for science, technology, engineering, ARTS, and math. The inclusion of the arts is important to Doherty.
“We dance as soon as we can walk,” he said. “We sing as soon as we can talk. We draw before we can write. Those are built into our very nature.”
He said the county consulted with Gov. Kate Brown about the STEAM program plan and she was pleased. He added that he may be poles apart with the governor from the Democratic Party on numerous issues, but helping children learn is an area where they found agreement.
“I am so pleased to see that as Oregon looks to its future in renewable energy infrastructure, we are also planning ahead for the future of the Oregonians who will drive innovation in this field for generations to come – our students,” Brown wrote in a prepared statement. “Every student in our state should have access to hands-on learning, and in STEAM courses, they can connect classroom to career and build skills that will serve them well beyond high school graduation.”
Doherty says that committees are being established to create the framework for the STEAM curriculum that could be the best in Oregon.
“This holds the potential of making these humble schools and homegrown students the envy of Oregon,” he said.