Wind power in southern Idaho is nothing new. Wind turbines can be seen along the Interstate 84 corridor from Boise to Pocatello.
The Lava Ridge Wind Project, proposed by Magic Valley Energy and LS Power for public lands in Jerome, Lincoln and Shoshone counties, would dwarf existing south-central Idaho turbines in both number and height.
If built as proposed, the project would double the amount of wind power generated in Idaho.
Wind turbines could be as tall as 740 feet. The turbine corridors would occupy 114 square miles within a larger project area of 308 square miles, 25 miles northeast of Twin Falls.
With up to 400 wind turbines producing 1,000 megavolts of capacity, Lava Ridge would be the largest wind energy project on public land and the second largest wind energy installation in the United States. Lava Ridge, if approved, will represent an ambitious shift toward mega wind projects on public land.
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But at what cost?
The Institute for Land Management divides these costs among its owndraft environmental impact statement, published on January 20 atFederal Register.As appropriate, the draft EIS offers three reduced alternatives to address environmental issues.
With the publication of the EIS comes a 60-day public comment period, which ends on March 21.
Here are some of the BLM's findings:
What does construction mean?
According to the draft EIS, the project would require 486 miles of new roads — the distance from Twin Falls to Las Vegas — and would require 147 miles of improvements to existing roads.
The BLM estimates that 812,882 vehicle trips will be made during the two-year construction project. During the 30 years of the project, Lava Ridge will experience 901,740 vehicle trips.
The presence of significant amounts of basaltic rock will require blasting for both road construction and tower and infrastructure construction. During construction, two eruptions are expected per day for 525 days.
Blasting will increase overall noise, and many residents have expressed concern that blasting could affect groundwater. Magic Valley Energy's development plan outlines the blasting plan and says the company will avoid blasting within 1,000 feet of homes, wells or bodies of water whenever possible.
Construction of concrete foundations, roads and tillage elements will require 130 million gallons of water, pumped from six boreholes. The water consumption has raised concerns that other users may have reduced access to water. The draft EIS suggests that the water table would be lower by less than half a foot and would recharge quickly, given the size and flow of the aquifer.
How will the project affect wildlife?
Any wind energy project carries the risk of killing birds, and a project of this size is almost guaranteed to result in bird deaths. Magic Valley Energy must obtain a US non-takeover permit. Fish and Wildlife, which would cover it in the almost certain case of cruciferous and bald eagles killed in collisions with turbine blades or other infrastructure.
The draft EIS for the project as proposed estimates an average of 3,240 to 5,654 bird deaths per year, with a maximum of 10,200 to 17,799 deaths per year. More specifically, an average of 13 suri eagles are expected to die each year. Eagles are declining, and the draft EIS estimates that 16.5 eagles will be killed over the 30-year operational period.
Migratory birds such as ducks, geese and swans will travel through this area during the migration season, although according to studies it is not a major migration corridor. Magic Valley Energy said the rotating blades can be stopped during the bird breeding season in hopes of reducing bird mortality.
The greatest threat to sage grouse identified in the draft EIS is not from logging, but from the 807 hectares of habitat loss.
Magic Valley Energy has developed a bird and bat conservation strategy to try to mitigate the impact on bird and bat populations. During the operational period, Magic Valley Energy will study bird collisions and create adaptive strategies, if necessary, to reduce collisions or compensate for off-site habitat creation.
Impacts of grazing and animal husbandry
Reclamation after construction will sow the area, and shepherds will be able to continue grazing.
Grazing allocations during construction and operation will have varying impacts on grazing permits, potentially disrupting their economics and the grazing community as a whole. At least one grazing area would be reduced by 34% during the two years of construction. In operation, the same allocation would only have a loss of 1.9%.
What about fires?
Public comments expressed concern about the ability to respond to wildfires amid the presence of wind turbines. Magic Valley Energy says it will stop the rotation of the turbine blades so aircraft can conduct firefighting flights, but it is uncertain whether the BLM or other firefighting assets will be allowed to fly into the area. The draft EIS states, "FAA regulations do not limit the proximity of aircraft to tall structures for firefighting, and engagement is at the discretion of the pilot."
The draft EIS states that the turbine corridors will lead to fuel fragmentation, which could aid in fire suppression.
What else do you need to know?
The mills will be visible from the entire Magic Valley. Several hundred pages of documents being prepared for the BLM seek to simulate what the views will look like once the turbines are installed.
For many communities, wind turbines will be at the fore. There are 30 homes within one mile or less of the zoning corridor and 104 homes within two miles of the zoning corridor, all of which could see property values decline due to proximity to the mills.
Several comments during the scoping process addressed the visual intrusion of red lights on tall structures as required by the Federal Aviation Administration for flight safety. Magic Valley Energy said it is pursuing technology that will turn on red aircraft lights only when aircraft are in the area.
How much energy will it give and who will use it?
According to Magic Valley Energy, the proposed 400-turbine project could serve between 360,000 and 600,000 homes.
By comparison, the Shoshone Falls Generating Station is one of 17 hydroelectric plants operated by Idaho Power on the Snake River and has a capacity of just over 14 kilowatts.
Idaho Power aims to be 100% renewable by 2045 and will likely purchase some of the power produced at Lava Ridge. According to Idaho Power's website, they already purchase wind power generated throughout the state and as of 2020 had a total of 728 megawatts of wind power connected to their system.
The site is at the northern end of the already approved Southwest Intertie project, also being built by LS Power, which will connect Idaho to the grid leading to Las Vegas and on to Southern California. Once Lava Ridge comes online, the vast majority of the power it produces is believed to power homes in Southern California.
What is this about Idaho?
The proposal was opposed by residents in the period 2021-22. The mills will transform the visual character of the Magic Valley, opponents say. Commissioners in all three counties said they could not support the project as proposed.
How will Idaho benefit from Lava Ridge?
Magic Valley Energy's preliminary estimates for 2021 say the construction phase will generate $80 million in tax revenue for surrounding taxing districts and, once operational, about $4 million annually for schools, roads, cemeteries and fire areas in Jerome, Lincoln and Minidocs. counties.
BLM will retain bothin-person and virtual public meetingsduring the comment period to share information and help the public and stakeholders make informed comments. The places, dates and times of these meetings will be published on the project website at least 15 days before the first meeting.
The BLM is accepting public comments until March 21. While public opposition to the Lava Ridge proposal is widespread, the BLM suggested that "significant comments identifying factual errors, data gaps, relevant methodologies or scientific studies" are most helpful.
Can grazing and renewable energy coexist?
The Lava Ridge Wind Project could bring hundreds of wind turbines to public land where some families have raised cattle for generations.
'Find another location.' The public is expressing concern about the wind farm project
More than 100 people attended and raised concerns about possible impacts on historic sites, including the Minidoka and Bird Cultural Site.
Not big fans: 3 counties affected by Lava Ridge Wind project not in support
The proposed wind farm project with 400 turbines will cover three counties. Each county made decisions not to support the project.
- Lava Ridge
- Wind power
- Institute for Land Management
- Draft environmental impact report
- Energy development on public land
- Construction industry
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With up to 400 wind turbines producing a capacity of 1,000 megavolts, Lava Ridge would be the largest-wind energy project on public lands and the second-largest wind energy facility in the U.S.What is the Lava Ridge project? ›
The Lava Ridge Wind Project is a proposed wind farm from MVE (Magic Valley Energy). The original project proposes 400 turbines across 75,000 acres of public land. The majority of the turbines would stand over twice as tall as the state of liberty—with the tallest towers standing about 740 feet tall.Where is the Lava Ridge project? ›
The proposed 1000+ megawatt wind project is planned for federal land located in Jerome, Lincoln, and Minidoka Counties.
The Lava Ridge Wind Project would consist of 400 turbines up to 740 feet in height and the associated infrastructure, including new roads, powerlines, substations, maintenance facilities and battery storage facilities. It would be located 25 miles northeast of Twin Falls.