Timing may be everything in the case of the proposed China Mountain Wind Farm, but it also creates complications.
While little new information was presented Wednesday, Colorado-based Renewable Energy Systems Americas – the project developer – finished a public meeting at the College of Southern Idaho Herrett Center for Arts and Science with a plea for the 100 or so attendees to get involved.
Spokeswoman Suzanne Leta Liou’s concern resulted from the overlapped timing of the wind farm’s environmental study and the Jarbidge Draft Resource Management Plan, both of which were compiled by the staff of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Jarbidge Field Office.
If the latter plan doesn’t lay groundwork for the wind project, RESofficials worry they may later be turned down for right-of-way grants vital to their work.
The Jarbidge plan was published Sept. 3 and public comment is open until Dec. 2. Leta Liou asked that people not only comment in favor of large wind projects but also that they request a 90-day extension of the comment period. That’s because the draft study for the wind farm is not expected until December, after the comment period for the Jarbidge draft has closed.
“We need members of the public to speak up if they want wind energy,” Leta Liou said while the listeners tucked into a free lunch. “Many of the options listed in the Jarbidge plan exclude large-scale wind development.”
Contacted later, Jarbidge Field Manager Rick Vander Voet said the timing of the two reports makes things complicated. He said the Jarbidge plan, begun in 2005, was delayed because of large wildfires and court cases. If the plan was now in place, Vander Voet said, it would have guided the wind farm review and application.
Because Vander Voet is in charge of both processes, he said whichever is finalized first will influence the other in order to be consistent.
“Doing this at the same time is perhaps not the most logical, but you can’t stop things from happening,” he said.
RES is also developing a sage-grouse conservation plan to compensate for the effects of the wind project, a draft of which Leta Liou presented to southern Idaho sage-grouse working groups at the end of August. The final plan should be published by the end of this month.
Katie Fite, biodiversity director for Western Watersheds Project, said no conservation plan will be sufficient because after all the fires, China Mountain – southwest of Rogerson – is one of the few places left for sage grouse in the Jarbidge area.
“All the construction and roads will affect the few grouse that remain,” Fite said. “We need responsible siting. They could have built a wind farm anywhere else. It’s just a Las Vegas power grab.”
The first of two phases would supply up to 200 megawatts to Nevada, Leta Liou said. The remaining planned 200 MW is unclaimed and has no transmission approval.
Most of the 30,000-acre project area belongs to the BLM, the rest being state and private land. So, RES needs to acquire BLM right-of-way approval to build or improve about 60 miles of roads, lay 47 miles of cable and install footings for up to 200 massive turbines.
If approved, the farm is planned to last 30 years, driven mainly by the 25-year limit of BLM right-of-way grants. Leta Liou said that at that point, the project will likely be decommissioned, although projects have been repowered in rare cases.
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