BLACKFOOT – No decision was made Wednesday night to allow or deny Western Energy a special use permit to place 66 electricity-generating windmills in the hills east of Firth because the Planning & Zoning commissioners want to give everyone who attended the meeting a chance to voice their testimony.
Everyone in attendance at the Wednesday meeting who did not get a chance to testify will be allowed to testify at the next meeting in which P&Z staff are expected to make a decision if they can get through all of the testimony. No testimony from people who were not at the Wednesday meeting will be accepted, and the next meeting will be 7 p.m. June 11 at the Bingham County Courthouse.
Almost 50 people attended the meeting held at the Bingham County Courthouse to either speak in support of the wind project or against it, or to just listen. P&Z commissioner chairman Hortense Nelson stopped public testimony just before midnight because of the late hour.
Western Energy, a Firth-based company, wants to build the wind farm that its representatives say will produce 100 megawatts of power, enough to power about 30,000 homes. Western Energy calls the wind farm the Cedar Creek Wind Power Project, which is scheduled to be operational by December 2010 if the SUP was approved in May.
The Brahma Group, a general contracting company, has agreed to build the windmills for Western Energy by subcontracting local construction companies and acquiring local supplies, a company representative said.
Ted and Shirley Thompson own the 5,000 acres of land that the windmills could be built on, which is located at the east ends of Goshen and Sand Creek Roads, east of Firth and north of Wolverine road, near the proposed Goshen South Wind Project. They support the project, saying that the income generated by lease agreements will allow the fourth-generation family ranchers to continue their operations and resist pressure from developers to create subdivisions on their property.
Western Energy sales director Wade Riser said he cannot guarantee the exact height of the windmills because his company cannot purchase the windmills until it receives the SUP, but the total height of the windmills his company is interested in, including the height of the blades, will range from 328 to 492 feet.
Just more than 10 miles of new 16-foot-wide roadway will have to be built to access and construct the windmills, and existing roadways will have to be improved, Riser said.
Benefits to the county by the wind project will be 100 temporary construction jobs and 10 permanent maintenance jobs, Riser said. Idaho Fish and Game advised Western Energy to watch for three species of animals that have not been seen in the proposed project area, and no endangered species live in the area, he added.
There were more people supporting the wind farm than opposing it at the meeting, and P&Z staff read more than a dozen letters in support and only two letters of opposition of the project.
Letters of opposition included statements saying that according to Idaho code electricity generation by wind is considered an industrial use of land with no mitigating circumstances for industrial SUP use.
Letters of support cited the increase in local jobs, income to Bingham County, and less dependence on foreign oil, all reasons that were echoed by Riser during thorough questioning by the commissioners. “You never have to refill a gas tank on a wind turbine,” Riser said.
Before the wind farm discussion, David and Sonia Martinez were allowed a 16.5 foot variance to a 30 foot setback requirement between a road and a residential building at 680 W 150 N. Sonia Martinez said she wanted to build a single level home for her parents on the property, and commissioners said they did not find any safety problems with the requested variance because the road discussed has a low amount of traffic.
Commissioner Merril Blake resigned his position as chairman for health reasons, nominating Hortense Nelson as the new chairman, who was voted into the position during the meeting.
By: Richard Toynton
30 May 2008