By Jennifer Sandmann
ALBION – Windmills still could whirl and hum on the ridgeline above Albion, but not as soon as a developer had hoped.
Any time may be too soon for Albion Valley residents who remain opposed to developing nearly 100 wind turbines on the picturesque Cotterel Mountain. Talk of legal action in an attempt to stop the project has emerged.
In recent developments, first there was word that Idaho Power instead will award an energy contract to an Oregon wind farm. Boise-based Windland Inc. suffered that setback, but was followed by good news last week for the company – federal land managers approved the project.
Albion residents were left with mixed messages: The turbines have been approved, but there isn’t a buyer for the power.
In the words of Albion resident Jim Wahlgren, “BLM is still willing to give away our mountain. The only thing, temporarily at least, is they don’t have anyone to give it to.”
Windland said late last week that it still plans to erect the turbines. To do that, it must try again to win a contract with an electric utility. But this time it will have a federal permit in hand that took four years to get. The Bureau of Land Management authorized a right of way for the project on about 4,500 acres, or seven square miles, of public land.
“That’s a huge step forward, and we’re pleased with that,” said Michael Heckler, director of marketing and development for Windland.
About 352 acres of ground actually will be disturbed. The development includes windmills along 14.5 miles of ridgeline.
The turbines will be between 210 and 262 feet tall with rotor spans that will add as much as 164 feet to their height. Combined they will be capable of producing up to 200 megawatts of electricity. That is enough power to supply 40,000 to 50,000 homes for one year without damming a river or emitting fossil fuel pollution. It is the biggest wind farm approved on federal land in the past 25 years.
Hopeful for the Idaho Power contract, Windland had planned to begin generating energy on Cotterel Mountain in 2007. But Idaho Power’s decision only represents a delay, not an end to the project, according to Windland.
“All three of the major investor utilities in Idaho – Idaho Power, PacfiCorp, and Avista – have indicated that they will procure additional amounts of wind-power generation,” Heckler said.
Construction on Cotterel Mountain could begin in 2007, and turbines could be generating power by 2008, he said.
Opposition to the project has been strong in the Albion Valley. Chief among concerns is that the turbines will obstruct the view. The valley is narrow. The turbines will sit on the ridge above and will be visible for miles, including from areas of Burley about 20 miles away.
“When the project is built I think everyone will recognize the visual impacts are much less than our opponents suggested they will be,” Heckler said. But Wahlgren and other Albion residents disagree. The project should not be situated on a pristine ridge, and there is talk of joining forces to take legal action, Wahlgren said.
The written details of BLM’s final decision are not yet available but should be soon, said Scott Barker with the BLM in Burley. Changes are few. Among them are additional monitoring requirements for sage grouse, raptors and migratory birds, he said.
The mountain offers habitat for big game, amphibians and reptiles, and 84 known avian species including sage grouse, golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Windland will contribute half a percent of the wind farm’s earnings to an environmental mitigation fund. That is estimated to be about $150,000 annually at forecast power rates.
Money pumped into the local economy includes an estimated $12.5 million in local sales taxes from construction of the project and property taxes of more than $1 million annually. Construction is expected to provide 120 jobs. A dozen permanent jobs will be created.
Jennifer Sandmann can be reached at 735-3233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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