SALEM — Democratic secretary of state candidate Brad Avakian wants to lease out public rangelands in Central and Eastern Oregon for renewable energy development.

Avakian, the state’s labor commissioner, said he would use the secretary of state’s position on the three-member State Land Board to push for wind, solar and geothermal leases on lands that belong to the Common School Fund.

The land board, whose other members are the governor and state treasurer, carries out a mandate in the Oregon Constitution to manage the lands to raise money for public schools.

“We’re not using any innovative approaches in order to get the best use out of that land,” Avakian said in a recent interview. “I think we should be doing geothermal technologies in Central Oregon. I think we should be doing environmentally-safe solar fields in the east ... And we don’t do any of that on our state lands, which by the way are some of the best in the world suited for these kinds of technologies.”

As it turns out, the state already leases some of the parcels for renewable energy projects. Solar, geothermal and wind energy developers have leased land over the years and more applications are in the pipeline, according to Lanny Quackenbush, eastern region manager at the Department of State Lands.

“Yes, we do have some leased — one solar (undeveloped) in Christmas Valley, and one Geothermal (undeveloped) in Warner Valley,” Quackenbush wrote in an email. “We had two additional geothermal leases where we only owned subsurface mineral rights, but they’ve been dropped. We’ve had some wind turbine interest at the level of testing where they install meteorological ‘met’ towers to measure wind speeds over a period of several years.”

The department has four applications for these types of wind turbines currently under review.

State Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, is also running for secretary of state in the May 17 Democratic primary. Devlin said it would impractical to lease out much of the rangelands for renewable energy development because a majority of the rangelands are already under 15- to 20-year leases for other uses. Many of the locations are not ideal for solar projects, “and although there are longterm plans to put in grids systems there, there are not the grid systems there.” Devlin said the state Legislature is in a better position to set climate change policy than the State Land Board.

The state owns 630,000 acres of rangeland in southeastern Oregon, which ranchers mostly use for grazing. Julie Curtis, a spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands, wrote in an email that 97 percent of the rangelands are already leased.

“Geothermal and wind energy projects do not take up the entire surface, so there are some options for dual leasing.”

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or hborrud@eomediagroup.com.

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