JACKPOT, Nev. – The rocky, uneven road could be daunting to some. But it was manageable for the caravan of sport utility vehicles that wound their way up it on Thursday.
It’s the same road that construction vehicles will use when work begins on a 185-turbine wind project southwest of Rogerson, Twin Falls consultant Stephen Hartgen said. And before the first half of the towers rise, likely in May 2011, workers will have to improve the drive.
“As you can see, these roads are pretty primitive,” Hartgen said as he navigated the bumps and ruts.
The caravan was led by Hartgen and other representatives of Portland-based Renewable Energy Systems America Developments, the company behind the wind project. Filling the SUVs were members of two Bureau of Land Management resource advisory councils, representing the Twin Falls District and Nevada’s Northeastern Great Basin.
It was the first joint meeting between the two 15-member groups, both of which include ranchers, scientists and others who advise the BLM on policy decisions. The two groups, accompanied by tribal and environmental representatives, sat through a presentation on the project and then drove onto the site to see a meteorological tower currently measuring wind speeds in the area.
“A day in the field is worth 1,000 issue papers,” Jenifer Arnold, associate district manager for the BLM Twin Falls District, told the crowd.
During his presentation, RES senior project developer Scott Kringen displayed a map of Idaho wind potential and said the best spots are on mountain ridges found just below the Snake River Plain – including the China Mountain area and western Cassia County. Nevada, he said, has little potential for wind, though plenty for geothermal development.
The 425-megawatt project will be split in two, with the first 200-megawatt segment developed and operated with Nevada Power, a Sierra Pacific Resources company. Nevada Power jumped on the opportunity because a 2005 state law requires power utilities to derive not less than 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015.
The 30,700-acre China Mountain project barely extends into Nevada, and the project’s transmission lines will dip less than a mile into the state to ensure the power qualifies for the state-mandated percentage, Hartgen said. Total cost for the project is estimated at $500 million.
Taxing districts within the site will see some revenue, Hartgen said, an ongoing 3 percent revenue from the project’s gross income thanks to a tax law change by the Legislature. Recipients would include Twin Falls County, the College of Southern Idaho, Three Creek School District and others. The project could theoretically generate $40 million in revenue, providing $1.25 million for the taxing entities, Hartgen said.
It’s the reverse of Idaho, Kringen said, where people have the tax money but want the energy.
“If you talk to someone in Nevada, they’re happy to have the power but they want the tax base,” he said.
Though RES states it does not believe any endangered species will be affected, it’s up to a BLM-led environmental study to determine just what impact the project would have on the area. Species such as the sage grouse are being examined for listing by the federal government, and BLM officials said they weren’t sure how a possible listing would affect the wind project.
Kringen took questions from RAC members and representatives from the Shoshone-Bannock tribe – the latter present to learn about the process in advance of proposed wind projects back home. But the most pointed questioning by far came from Katie Fite, biodiversity director for the Western Watersheds Project.
Quizzing speakers on the proper way to study wildlife effects and the need for the tower in the first place, Fite said during a break that despite Kringen’s wind maps, too many other factors keep the site from being a good location.
“This is the most inappropriate place on Earth to put a wind farm,” she said.
RAC members seemed to appreciate the chance to learn about the site. Ken Sanders, chairman of the Twin Falls District RAC, said he’s staying open-minded but that the project seems like a good plan so far.
“To me, it appears there is little impact on the resources,” he said.
By Nate Poppino
20 June 2008
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