KETCHUM • A future transmission line project south of the Wood River Valley has become the next to face potential delays due to its location on priority sage grouse habitat.
Since 2007, Idaho Power Co. officials have been working with community leaders to upgrade the Wood River Valley’s electrical grid. When planning first began, sage grouse conflicts weren’t the major issue they are today, said Brett Dumas, environmental supervisor with Idaho Power.
That all changed in 2010 when federal officials declared the bird a candidate for endangered species protections. A year later, a federal judge approved a settlement requiring officials to make a final decision about listing the bird by 2015.
With state officials and private landowners working to improve the bird’s population and avert a listing, Idaho Power has put off deciding if it needs a third transmission line in the southern region of the Wood River Valley, said Brett Dumas, environmental supervisor for the utility.
“We’re holding off on the long-term plan,” Dumas said. “We don’t really have enough information right now.”
The Wood River Valley upgrade was split into two parts. In the northern region, Idaho Power is adding a redundant power line to protect residents against blackouts.
In the south, Idaho Power planned to replace two transmission lines with higher-capacity lines. A possible third line was also proposed as a backup energy source for the southern region.
Dumas said he doesn’t expect the northern project to be delayed, since most of the redundant line is located on private land.
But the southern project is primarily located on federal land and requires going through an extensive permitting process with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM could decide to delay approving the permits until the agency finishes amending its sage grouse management plans, said Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the BLM office in Boise. For example, the BLM put a two-year delay on a decision regarding the China Mountain Wind Project in south Twin Falls County because of its proposed location in priority sage grouse habitat.
“We don’t have a hard and fast moratorium on approving transmission line projects but we do have to take a close look at how it could affect sage grouse habitat,” Gardetto said. “If we feel it could impact the area then we would probably put a delay on the project instead of denying them a permit.”