TWIN FALLS • A Nevada utility company’s recent decision to pull out of a major wind project along the Idaho and Nevada border has local officials worried about the project’s future.
“This might be the nail in the coffin for this project,” said Twin Falls County Commissioner Leon Mills. “I’m unsure at this point if it can go forward.”
NV Energy was working with RES Americas to build the 170-turbine China Mountain Wind Project. RES had proposed that the project would take up to 25,500 acres of public land south of Twin Falls.
However, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials announced in March that they would delay a permitting decision on the project for two years because of its location in critical sage grouse habitat.
NV Energy’s decision to pull out is unfortunate since the China Mountain project was slated to bring revenue and jobs to Twin Falls County, Mills said.
“They’ve been working on this for 10 years,” he said. “This isn’t just something you can walk away from. That area is one of the greatest wind channels in the Northwest, but you don’t want to build something that adversely affects the sage grouse.”
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency won’t make its final decision until 2015. The BLM hopes to improve its management practices between now and 2014 in order to prevent a grouse listing.
A NV Energy spokesman said in an email that the company’s decision hasn’t halted China Mountain from moving forward, but declined to comment further on the subject.
The move is a win for many conservationists who saw the project as a threat to sage grouse habitat and livelihood.
The Idaho Conservation League released a statement Monday on its website praising NV Energy for protecting the area’s “irreplaceable landscape.”
Attempts by the Times-News to contact RES were not returned.
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