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Lava Ridge Wind Project Moves Forward, Shrinks to Half the Size of Original Proposal • Idaho Capital Sun

The Lava Ridge Wind Project is moving forward under a new plan that will reduce the project to nearly half its originally planned size.

The Bureau of Land Management released its final environmental reviewwho chose an alternative model for the project after Proposals from landowners, ranchers, Native American tribes and public agencies will be considered. The final decision on the preferred alternative will be made later this summer, Magic Valley Energy spokeswoman Amy Schutte told the Sun.

Magic Valley Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power, wants to build the wind plant about 25 miles northeast of Twin Falls. The original proposal for the wind project would have included 197,000 acres of land and 400 turbines up to 740 feet tall. The agency's preferred alternative scales the project down to 104,000 acres of land and consists of 241 turbines with a maximum height of 660 feet.

According to the BLMthe preferred alternative reduces potential impacts to sage grouse, major wildlife migration routes, cultural resources, the Jerome County Airport and agricultural aviation, ranchers on public lands, and private landowners.

The alternative also addresses the concerns of Friends of Minidokaa Jerome-based nonprofit organization that preserves Minidoka National Historic Site, the site of a former concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

The organization opposed the wind turbine because it would have a commanding view of its property, the Idaho Statesman reported. Under the original proposal, the facility would have been just two miles from the site. Alternatively, the nearest wind turbine would have been nine miles from the historic site.

Luke Papez, Senior Director of Project Development at LS Power, said in a Press release The preferred alternative is a balance between the protection of environmental resources and the need for domestic energy production.

“Our goal is to meet growing energy needs while building strong relationships and partnerships within the local community,” Papez said in the release. “This goal is critical to ensuring sustainable and beneficial development of Idaho's Magic Valley region.”

The two images are visual simulations of the preferred alternative and show the view of the Lava Ridge Wind Project from the Minidoka National Historical Site. (Bureau of Land Management)

Idaho authorities reject Lava Ridge Wind Project

The wind project has sparked controversy since the early stages of project development. Idaho lawmakers in 2023 passed a resolution expressing concerns about the project.

Thursday's BLM decision sparked renewed resistance from Idaho officials.

On the same day, the decision was announced to allow Idaho Governor Brad Little, Lieutenant Governor Scott Bedke, U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Congressman Mike Simpson issued statements in a press release opposing the Bureau of Land Management's decision.

Little said he disagreed with the office's decision, calling it the “latest example of the Biden administration's unsound energy agenda.”

“It may not be important in Washington, D.C., but for those of us who live here, it is important,” Little said.

Bedke expressed concern that the project would benefit Californians rather than Idaho residents.

“Our public lands have long been used for a variety of purposes that meet the needs and benefits of Idaho residents,” Bedke said in the release. “Raising livestock, farming and recreation are an important part of the Magic Valley's heritage. While domestic energy production is a new part of a necessary discussion, the BLM ignored the opinions of Idaho residents on a project taking place in our backyard, instead favoring the energy needs of Californians.”

Simpson, Risch and Crapo all said they would continue to fight against the wind power project.

On Friday, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador announced an appeal to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), asking the agency to reconsider its finding that the Lava Ridge project posed “no threat” to air traffic in the region.

“The people of Idaho have overwhelmingly demanded action and deserve better than to be ignored by the federal bureaucracy,” Labrador said in a Press release. “Yesterday's appeal is the first of many steps my office will take to fight this ill-conceived project that threatens Idaho's agriculture, wildlife and waterways.”

Energy independence, jobs and taxes

Despite opposition from elected officials, environmentalists in Idaho believe the Idaho Wind Project has a lot to offer.

Peter Richardson, chairman of Idaho Energy Freedom, told the Idaho Capital Sun that the Lava Ridge Wind Project would not benefit people outside the state but would help Idaho become more energy independent.

That's because Idaho residents use about 61% more electricity than is generated, which results in the need to import energy from other states, according to FindEnergy, a statewide energy data tracker. While 40% of the state's electricity comes from utilities in Idaho, nearly 40% more comes from power companies in other states, according to Idaho Department of Energy and Mineral Resources Energy Landscape Report.

“Idaho exports a lot of things, from potato chips to computer chips,” Richardson said. “If electricity is one of those things we export, that's a good thing.”

Adrian Gallo, climate program manager for the Idaho Conservation League, told the Sun the project will help provide more power options for utilities that rely on hydropower.

“We are not producing enough electricity nationwide,” he said. “We have relied largely on hydropower to produce electricity, but the drought is making things worse. Hydropower production is declining and we can no longer rely on the old way of generating electricity.”

Gallo said the Lava Ridge Wind Project will not only increase energy production in Idaho, but will also strengthen the region's economy for the next 30 years.

The BLM estimates that construction of the project would generate $21.9 million in annual tax revenue and contribute a total of $138.9 million to the local and regional economy.

“Millions of acres of BLM-managed lands across the country are already vulnerable to coal, oil and gas extraction,” Gallo said. “This will continue to harm nearby communities, and we have an opportunity to bring clean energy to the state while generating tax revenue and increasing our grid resiliency.”

Ryan McGoldrick, program director for Conservation Voters for Idaho, told the Sun that as one of the fastest-growing states in the country, Idaho needs clean energy sources.

“For these projects to be successful, we need the consent of the people,” McGoldrick said. “Unfortunately, it is obvious that Magic Valley residents did not feel heard during the development of Lava Ridge. Regardless of the final decision, I hope the shortcomings of this project do not turn Idahoans against beneficial projects elsewhere.”

Anna Harden

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