TWIN FALLS – The company behind the Lava Ridge Wind Project spent this week discussing their second proposed wind farm in south-central Idaho, the Salmon Falls Wind Project.
Magic Valley Energy and its parent company LS Power held a series of open houses this week to bring information and outreach to communities regarding their proposed Salmon Falls Wind project, which would be located in southern Twin Falls County near Hollister. The project, still in its early phases, has filed an application with the Bureau of Land Management, which is expected to issue a Notice of Intent as soon as this fall.
The scoping process will begin with public meetings to collect comment from the public and from state and local agencies like counties and cities. The process leading to the BLM issuing a determination on Magic Valley Energy’s request could take up to two years. If approved, Magic Valley Energy said the wind farm could become operational by 2026.
The 800 megawatt Salmon Falls facility would occupy public lands managed by the BLM in southern Twin Falls County. Magic Valley Energy said that once constructed, the proposed project would generate $1.9 million in local taxes annually, including up to $614,300 for Filer School District, and up to $665,300 for Twin Falls County.
BLM project manager Katherine Farrell said comments from the public are an important part of the permitting process through scoping and the Environmental Impact Statement.
“I’m here today to talk to members of the public about this project, because I’m managing it for the BLM,” Farrell said, “and I want to know what the public has to say.”
Farrell stressed the importance of public comments submitted to the BLM.
“We use the public comments to determine which resources we need to study,” he said. “If they don’t provide us public comments, we can’t consider it. And public comments do have an influence on the ultimate decision.”
Written comments can be submitted by email to BLM_ID_SalmonFallsWind@BLM.Gov, postal mail, or even fax. Comments can also be made by phone, but Farrell said a written comment in the individual’s own words is preferred to a phone call, because sometimes transcribing a phone call can result in some missed elements of the comment.
Salmon Falls is about 18 months behind Lava Ridge, but local concerns or objections to Lava Ridge have also been voiced for Salmon Falls as well. A citizen’s group called Stop Lava Ridge has held community meetings around the Magic Valley and has an active online presence. No protests were observed at the open houses, but several attendees did have questions and concerns about the project.
Locals in person and online have expressed the following concerns: Where will the energy be used? Could south-central Idaho become an energy producer for places like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or California?
Several western states have established clean energy goals, Luke Papez, Magic Valley Energy Project director for LS Power, said. Energy generated in south-central Idaho would likely be sent out of state.
“Right now the energy has not been sold,” Papez said. “When you look at that need here within the state, coupled with needs all across the west … there’s 10s of thousands of megawatts needed to meet these clean energy goals, so we’re responding to that by proposing project in areas that we feel will make sense for a wind development project to be successful.”
LS Power owns transmission assets in place, and more are being developed. The transmission piece of the clean energy puzzle is important for renewable sources such as wind or solar, to allow regions with higher generation to supply regions with lower generation, for instance, on the days the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.
Papez said that while he understands concerns about energy produced in Idaho being shipped out of state, similar things already happen in other industries such as agriculture.
“Energy is already an interstate-commerce commodity,” Papez said. “Idaho has been a wonderful state for export economy. Potatoes, dairy, beef, microchips. All are produced here, some are used in-state, much is shipped out of state. Energy can be another commodity that Idaho can accept investments have tax revenues and jobs here locally, just like the agricultural industry provides.”
On Saturday afternoon, the wind project also hosted an information session for contractors and vendors who might be interested in partnering with the project. About 20 people attended the session, representing interests such as crane operators, industrial lubrication, logistics and transportation.
LS Power has stated hopes to hire as much local talent for the project as possible. Magic Valley Energy spokesperson Amy Schutte said the contractor and vendors meeting was to help give people an idea of the timeline for construction.
“For Lava Ridge and for Salmon Falls there’s a lot opportunity for folks with concrete, gravel, fencing,” Schutte said. “There’s a lot of things and it makes a lot of sense to use local talent for this.
“Most construction guys are planning out multiple years ahead now, so it’s good to get a grasp on what could be available to them if they wanted to be involved in the project.”
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