PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Construction of what could become the largest wind farm in the world can begin in eastern Oregon after the Air Force said it will no longer block the $2 billion project over concerns about radar interference.
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined U.S. Rep. Greg Walden on Friday to announce construction of the Shepherds Flat wind farm project can begin on schedule in May.
Plans call for building 338 wind turbines on 32,000 acres in remote areas of Gilliam and Morrow counties.
The project is expected to bring more than 700 construction jobs to Oregon and create a clean renewable energy system capable of generating 845 megawatts of power, the equivalent of a nuclear plant.
"It's a huge, huge win for the cause of green energy in our state," Wyden said. But he noted it took some political arm twisting to persuade the Department of Defense to lift objections that were raised at the last minute.
Wyden said the possibility of a delay for a major project that will improve national energy independence shows the need to deal with any potential national security issues early in the planning stages.
"What the last few months have shown is how important it's going to be to set in place a new long-term process for dealing with these issues," Wyden said.
"Had this project gone down the drain, what you would have seen is a chilling effect on the prospect of getting private investment in green energy in Oregon and across the country."
Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, said the Obama administration has made renewable energy one of its top priorities, including in the Defense Department.
But she said wind turbines can cause interference with radar systems and there has been a huge increase in the number of project proposals.
"One reason I think this will come up again is because the issue is cumulative impact," Robyn said. "When you reach a certain number of turbines the radar systems can start having more of a problem."
In Oregon, she said the problem arose because it involved an older radar facility near the town of Fossil dating back 40 to 50 years that relies on outdated analog technology instead of newer digital equipment.
Fortunately, it can be upgraded while turbine construction is under way to avoid any delays, Robyn said.
Officials at Caithness Energy, the New York company developing the project, praised the Oregon lawmakers for their efforts to keep construction on schedule.
Ross Ain, Caithness executive vice president, said work will begin in May with completion expected before the end of 2011.
In addition to the local jobs, Ain estimated the project will add about 16,000 jobs nationally, including manufacturing, fabrication and transportation.