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Comment period begins on large wind project

Two weeks from tonight, Twin Falls residents will have their chance to comment on a proposed wind power project planned for southern Twin Falls County.

That’s when the Bureau of Land Management will host the last of three public meetings regarding the environmental impact of China Mountain, a 185-turbine project developed by Portland-based Renewable Energy Systems America Developments. Targeted at a 30,700-acre area southwest of Rogerson, the development could produce as much as 425 megawatts, at least 200 of which is likely destined for Nevada consumers.

The meetings are one of the first steps in a two-year environmental impact study run by the BLM and other affected lands agencies, said Rick Vander Voet, field supervisor with the BLM’s Twin Falls District. The process will examine the impact of building and operating the 200- to 250-foot towers on everything from bats to plants. The area in question contains about 20,000 acres of BLM land in the Twin Falls and Elko districts, 2,000 acres of Idaho state land and 8,700 acres of private land.

“Everyone recognized this place had great potential for wind energy,” Vander Voet said. “Many of the reasons for that are the reasons why it’s sensitive wildlife habitat (as well).”

The meetings will help the BLM narrow down the critical issues regarding the development, said Vander Voet, who compared this stage of the scoping process to “a blank sheet of paper.” His office has already received a handful of comments both pro and con. Comments may be submitted until July 21.

Two years is actually an “aggressive” schedule for an environmental study, Vander Voet said. Such studies take time due to the fieldwork and data collection required. A draft EIS is scheduled for release in January 2010 and a final version by October of that year.

Nothing much has changed with the project since RES announced in November it was pursuing a deal with Nevada Power, a Sierra Pacific Resources company, to jointly develop and operate the site, said Scott Kringen, a senior project developer with RES who will be present at the public meetings. He said his company is confident it will be able to work around any environmental issues that come up.

“We know there will be some challenges out there,” Kringen said. “There are on any project you build.”

RES is still in talks with other utilities to purchase anything above the 200 megawatts destined for Nevada Power’s grid, he said – giving the latter enough to power 65,000 homes. The company and its local spokesman, Twin Falls consultant Stephen Hartgen, have previously emphasized other economic benefits to Twin Falls County, however. Hartgen said the county could see ongoing 3 percent revenue from the project’s gross income because of recently changed tax laws. And the company will employ 20 fulltime workers and about 200 workers during construction, estimated to cost nearly $2 million per turbine.

By Nate Poppino
Staff writer


12 June 2008