The state House Resources and Conservation Committee approved a bill Thursday that would allow the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners to decide whether public land be used for commercial or business purposes.
The bill, which was proposed on behalf of Ridgeline Energy, a wind turbine company looking to expand its operations in southern Idaho, would allow commercial leases on state land for up to 49 years. Currently, only leases for use of stone, coal, oil, gas or other minerals can be longer than 10 years.
As a result, decisions would be determined on a case-by-case basis by the board, which consists of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, State Controller Donna M. Jones, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary to the Board George Bacon.
The bill would not affect agricultural leases, grazing leases, oil and gas leases, mineral leases, geothermal leases, single-family, recreational cottage site and home site leases.
Ridgeline Energy, a multi-state company that developed the 65-megawatt Wolverine Creek wind energy facility in Idaho Falls, is seeking additional sites to develop a 1,000-tower facility. But like other companies featuring alternative energy, it is reluctant to invest in Idaho without the chance for a long-term lease, Stan Boyd, a company spokesman, told the committee.
Rich Rayhill, a company vice president, said the southern half of Idaho is ripe for wind turbines, including a handful of Magic Valley sites such as Cotterell Mountain in Burley and Browns Bench.
He said the Idaho National Laboratory estimates the state could accommodate 10,000 megawatts of wind turbines.
“The whole state has potential for wind development,” Rayhill said. “Everywhere, all across.”
The company said a tower covers a 40th of an acre and can provide 1 megawatt to 2.7 megawatts.
Though the company did not specify during the committee meeting where the power would go, Rayhill said afterward it would “most likely” stay in Idaho.
Rayhill said an advantage to wind turbines separate to environment benefits is that they provide space for additional industries, including timber and grazing. Counties also receive money from property taxes.
What remains unclear, however, is whether there are limitations to types of businesses permitted to occupy the public lands besides the wind turbine companies.
Committee member Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, acknowledged after the meeting that the legislation could open the door for other unwanted businesses – including coal-fired power plants.
“There are some possible problems that could come,” she said. “I’d like to think the intent of the possible legislation is to make practical decisions.”
Committee Chairman Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, said it is possible for other businesses to seek leases with public land but it is unlikely to provide for energy companies offering coal because they would have to apply for a special-use permit from counties.
“They could but that’s practically infeasible,” he said. “The problem was the 10-year limit.”
By Jared S. Hopkins
Government reporter Jared S. Hopkins can be reached at (208) 343-0901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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