After closing its 90-day comment period for the Lava Ridge Wind Project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Bureau of Land Management must make revisions to release a final statement in the coming months in order for the project to move forward.
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.
Magic Valley Energy LLC — an affiliate of New York-based energy infrastructure company LS Power — seeks the BLM’s permission to build the project in Jerome, Lincoln and Minidoka counties on approximately 197,474 acres of federal, state and private land.
According to the draft impact statement, the developer chose the proposed location based on the quality of wind in the area, the power markets accessible by existing and planned transmission lines, and the absence of land use constraints.
The public comment period for the current phase of review ended on April 20, after the BLM added a 30-day extension to the initial deadline.
BLM spokesperson Heather Tiel-Nelson told the Idaho Capital Sun that the bureau received nearly 11,000 public comments. Over the next several months, Tiel-Nelson said the bureau will review the comments and post a summary report to their website by early summer.
“This project has definitely generated a significant amount of public interest,” she said in a phone interview. “We are very grateful to all of our stakeholders and those who commented and provided feedback to us.”
Tiel-Nelson said the bureau is not focused on how many comments it received in favor or against the project, but rather it will consider comments that are “substantive,” or comments that identify factual errors, data gaps, relevant methods or scientific studies.
The draft impact statement includes multiple alternatives that are reduced versions of the project that would minimize the project’s impact on Wilson Butte Cave, Minidoka National Historic Site and local communities.
According to the draft impact statement, the BLM identified two preferred alternatives for the project. Alternative C would reduce the project area to 146,300 acres and 378 turbines. Tiel-Nelson said the alternative would minimize impact, but still provide the capacity to generate electricity at a level comparable to the proposed action.
Alternative E, the BLM’s other preference, would reduce the project to 122,400 acres and 269 turbines. Tiel-Nelson said this option would leave a smaller project footprint and less infrastructure while minimizing the impact to the viewshed near Minidoka National Historic Site.
Tiel-Nelson said the bureau anticipates to finalize the project’s environmental impact statement by late fall or early winter. After finalizing the statement, the BLM will issue a decision to inform the next steps and timelines for construction.
Wind project addresses regional, local clean energy goals
According to the draft impact statement, the need for the project arises from regional objectives to increase the amount of renewable, carbon-free energy sources into the energy supply.
Idaho Power, the state’s largest electricity provider company, aims to provide 100% clean energy by 2045. According to the impact statement, Idaho Power would need over 2,000 megawatts by 2045 to reach that goal with renewable energy.
The proposed wind project would generate more than 1,000 megawatts of clean energy, which is equivalent power for more than 300,000 homes, Magic Valley Energy spokesperson Amy Schutte told the Idaho Capital Sun.
“The need for renewable energy continues to grow as businesses, cities, and western states set policy targets to transition to a cleaner electric grid,” Schutte said in an email. “Tens of thousands of megawatts of new energy will need to be created to meet the goals of individual states, cities and utility companies.”
Schutte said the project would allow Idaho to export wind energy, providing energy to neighboring states in addition to Idaho and the Magic Valley community.
According to the Magic Valley Energy website, the proposed project would provide an estimated $3 million a year to local governments’ tax revenues. The final design of the project will determine actual values and tax revenue distribution.
Until the BLM issues a decision, Schutte said that the company will continue to seek input from stakeholders, the Magic Valley community and agency representatives.
Idaho officials, groups oppose Lava Ridge Wind Project
While the project addresses regional clean energy goals, Idaho officials and local opponents point to conservation concerns and lack of community support for the development.
Opponents of the project include Friends of Minidoka, a nonprofit organization based in Jerome that preserves Minidoka Historic Site, a former concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. The organization educates others about the forced removal and incarceration experience of Japanese Americans.
As reported by the Idaho Statesman, the organization has led a campaign opposing the wind project’s development, claiming the project would diminish the immersive experience of its historical center.
In February, Gov. Brad Little, Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke, U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, U.S. Senator Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson jointly sent a letter to BLM state director Karen Kelleher expressing concerns about the wind project.
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“Affected farmers, ranchers, tribes, the Japanese American community and sportsmen have voiced legitimate objections,” they said in the letter. “As it stands today, the local community predominantly has not shown support for this development.”
In the letter, the officials said the project conflicts with “deep-rooted” Idaho values for land conservation and land use opportunities for recreation, grazing and sporting activities.
The officials also said they have concerns about the habitat and aerial fire suppression efforts, considering the height of the turbines in an area prone to wildfire. They said they would not support the project if the BLM does not consider the concerns of the local community.
In March, the Idaho House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to express concerns about the Lava Ridge Wind Project, citing “near unanimous opposition” to the project by the local community and its counties and highway districts.
Attorney General Raúl Labrador also voiced opposition to the wind project. In a tweet on April 21, he said he would do “whatever is legally necessary” to support opponents of the project.
In a press release on April 21, Labrador said he submitted a comment to the BLM sharing his concerns about the project. In the release, he said the project puts corporate interests ahead of the interests of Idahoans and would harm wildlife, hunters, waterways and Idahoans.
“The agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement fails to account for the numerous harms the project will cause,” he said in the release. “It represents a disregard for the environment and other vital interests entrusted to the agency’s safekeeping.”