Bureau of Land Management shrinks proposed size of controversial Idaho wind farm project

Jun 10, 2024, 8:14 PM

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The federal Bureau of Land Management’s preferred alternative for a proposed large-scale wind energy farm in southern Idaho would shrink its size by nearly half and move it farther from a national historic site.

The proposed Lava Ridge wind farm has drawn opposition from government leaders, local ranchers, and people who have said, among other things, that the project endangers the Minidoka National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.

The agency detailed its preferred alternative to the original plan in its final environmental review released last week. It would decrease the number of wind turbines to 241 from 400 and cap the maximum height of the electricity-generating turbines at 660 feet (201 meters), KTVB-TV reported.

The plan also places the closest turbine to the historic site at 9 miles (14 kilometers) away. The agency said adjusting the corridor configuration aims to help “preserve the visitor experience of the remote nature of the former incarceration site.”

As proposed in 2020, it would have been built within about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of the visitor center for the historic site. Nonprofit organization, Friends of the Minidoka, is one group that has been concerned the project could destroy the the experience they want to preserve at the site.

Robyn Achilles, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement that most of the detailed historical research provided by the group to the Biden administration to enable them to better protect the historic site was disregarded in this decision.

The Biden administration “needs to do a better job and make a real commitment to protect Minidoka and our heritage, or we will be dealing with Lava Ridge and other projects forever,” Achilles said.

Idaho Republicans U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch both expressed their continued opposition to the project in social media posts last week.

Risch said he would continue to fight what he called an “unnecessary and ill-begotten project.”

The Biden Administration has prioritized permitting renewable energy projects on public lands by 2025 as part of its response to climate change. Magic Valley Energy, which is a subsidiary of New York-based LS Power, proposed the Lava Ridge energy project and has said it would increase economic activity in the area in part by creating jobs and increasing local government tax revenues.

Luke Papez, senior director of project development for LS Power, said in a statement that the agency’s new preferred alternative appears to strike an appropriate balance between the protection of environmental resources and the need for additional domestic energy production.

The Bureau of Land Management released its draft environmental impact statement in early 2023 with two preferred alternatives. A 90-day comment period then generated more than 11,000 public comments and 1,400 scoping comments, officials said.

The final environmental review’s preferred alternative decreases the “area disturbed” by nearly 50%, from 8,395 acres to 4,492 acres (3,397 hectares to 1,817 hectares).

“The preferred alternative also reduces potential impacts to sage grouse, large wildlife migration routes and winter concentration areas, cultural resources, Jerome County Airport and agricultural aviation uses, public land ranchers, and adjacent private landowners,” BLM’s news release said.

If the new preferred alternative is selected, BLM estimates the project’s construction to generate $21.9 million in tax revenue annually and contribute $138.9 million in total economic output.

The BLM said the preferred alternative was created through engagement with landowners, ranchers, Tribal Nations, federal, state and county elected leaders, organizations, the BLM’s Resource Advisory Council for the area and the National Park Service.

Without any changes, the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred alternative would be finalized in July.

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Bureau of Land Management shrinks proposed size of controversial Idaho wind farm project