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Comment period opens for massive Lava Ridge Wind Project
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Comment period opens for massive Lava Ridge Wind Project

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Lava Ridge Wind Proposal flight

An EcoFlight tour flies over some existing wind turbines Wednesday, July 21, 2021, during a Lava Ridge Wind Proposal tour flight near Buhl.

BOISE — U.S. officials are taking comments on plans for a proposed energy project in south-central Idaho that would more than double the amount of wind energy produced in the state.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking comments on the 1,000-megawatt project proposed by Magic Valley Energy that would include 400 wind turbines up to 740 feet high, taller than any in the state. The agency is also holding virtual meetings on Sept. 8 and 9 to discuss the proposal.

The Lava Ridge Wind Project would be built in parts of Jerome, Lincoln and Minidoka counties and power upward of 300,000 homes.

Wind turbines for the project would be built in corridors covering about 119 square miles. About 114 square miles of that is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and the Idaho Department of Lands administers about 5 square miles.

The BLM is proposing to withdraw the 114 square miles it manages from mining claim proposals and consideration for land sales.

“Renewable wind projects are a critical component of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to confronting climate change, promoting clean air and water for our current and future generations, creating thousands of good-paying union jobs, and jump starting our country’s transition to a clean energy future,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement.

The administration said it has a goal of permitting at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025.

The BLM will use the public comments it receives on the project for a draft environmental impact statement due out next summer, followed by a final environmental impact statement in the fall of 2022, and a final decision shortly after.

The draft environmental impact statement will look at loss of wildlife habitat, including for greater sage-grouse that have seen steep population declines in the U.S. West in recent decades.

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Other considerations will include changes the wind turbines will have on scenic qualities, changes to access to the land for recreation and cattle grazing, changes to social and economic conditions, and physical, visual and audible disturbances to historic properties and cultural properties within and outside the project.

The project includes a possible 500-kilovolt transmission line to an existing substation operated by Idaho Power near Shoshone, or a different location not yet constructed.

The project also includes 381 miles of access roads and a battery energy storage system.

Luke Papez, project manager, said the company is hoping to start construction in 2023 and have it in service by the end of 2024.

He said, based on multiple years of data the company has collected, the wind blows often enough and strong enough to support the project. He said that information will be used to site the turbines, which could be of different dimensions based on wind characteristics in the area.

“This is a rapidly evolving industry with new and improved turbines coming to the commercial marketplace very frequently,” he said. “Not every turbine is ideal for every site.”

The battery storage system, Papez said, will allow the company to more evenly distribute electricity even though winds can fluctuate.

“It’s a fairly advanced technology, and there are not many installed,” he said. “But they are becoming more and more common with these proposals for renewable energy systems.”

He said there is significant interest from potential customers, but no contracts so far.

The area is mostly used for cattle grazing, which could continue with the wind energy project in operation.

On its website, the company says the project will generate 700 jobs during the construction phase and 20 for operations annually after that.

There are currently 541 wind turbines in Idaho producing 973 megawatts, according to the U.S. Wind Turbine Database compiled in part by the U.S. Geological Survey. The wind energy projects are all in southern Idaho and are located along interstate highways from Mountain Home to Idaho Falls.

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