Rancher John Faulkner of Gooding has a grand vision to combine three types of renewable energy into a huge project in Elmore County.
But his neighbors are already raising concerns about wildlife, water and scenery. The Elmore County Planning and Zoning Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on five conditional use permits the developers will need, along with a long list of federal and state approvals.
The proposed Cat Creek Energy pump-storage hydroelectric project would be located on Anderson Ranch Reservoir near Pine, east of Mountain Home. The project would add a new 50,000-acre foot upper reservoir with a 3.4-mile-long earthen dam.
Water from Anderson Ranch would be pumped up to the upper reservoir when there are energy surpluses. The power for the pumping would come from a 39-turbine, 110-megawatt wind power plant and from a 40-megawatt solar generation plant.
Then, when electricity demand is high, water from the upper reservoir would run down a penstock through a hydroelectric generator, producing more power.
“All of this water is going to come from flood water,” said James Carculis, a renewable energy developer who said he is acting as a consultant on the project for Faulkner. “The initial water will be literally recycled.”
The facility also would store 30,000 acre feet of water that will be available for other uses downstream in the Boise River watershed, said David Tuthill, former Idaho Department of Water Resources director who also is a consultant on the project. He estimates this year Anderson Ranch spilled 90,000-acre feet of flood water, more than enough to fill the upper reservoir.
Many Treasure Valley irrigation interests are locked in a fight over who controls the water after the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases the water to prevent floods. Tuthill said the project’s proposed water right “would not affect” this so-called “second fill” issue either way.
The scope of the project is excessive, said Wendi Combs, a homeowner on Anderson Ranch Reservoir who opposes the project. Combs said that’s especially true of the wind farm, which is proposed to run from near Lime Creek, which flows into the eastern side of the reservoir, all the way to past Little Camus Reservoir and Anderson Dam, occupying a total of 23,000 acres.
“A project of this scale will alter the wildlife and beauty of Anderson Ranch forever,” Combs said.
Combs said the project would be built in the middle of a key corridor for big game, migratory birds and also in sage grouse habitat.
Carculis acknowledged the wildlife issues and said they would be addressed along with concerns about threatened bull trout in the Anderson Ranch Reservoir and the South Fork of the Boise River. The project’s applicants already have a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study its feasibility.
They have applied for a Letter of Power Privilege from the Bureau of Reclamation, which they need to use Anderson Ranch. Eventually, they also would need approval from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation to build transmission lines and other facilities on federal land.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources also will have to approve its water right. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will get to weigh in on several of these processes, as will the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Carculis’ Exergy Development Group was forced in 2012 to give up its contract rights to build a 116-megawatt wind farm in Idaho. He said he still has projects in development, though he is only a consultant on this one.
The project has no specific customers yet for the power but Carculis said the storage capacity will make the power attractive to utilities and even an independent system operator, which would operate a regional transmission grid.
“I think the entire West is going to change dramatically,” said Carculis. “There is going to be a lot of overproduction and there’s going to be a need for a place to store it,” he said.
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