I have lived in southern Idaho all my life and the volcanic landscape, native wildlife and ancient archaeological sites of the region are very important to me. A proposal by a Massachusetts-based company for a 100-turbine wind development would alter the familiar landscape of my home forever. The project would begin 13 miles from Idaho Falls and extend west on both sides of Highway 20 to within a mile of East Butte. Turbines would be 250 feet taller than those already operating east of Idaho Falls. Substations, powerlines, roads and a 5,000 plus acre solar installation would also be built.
The developers expect to create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs. Yearly “payments in lieu of property taxes” would go to the state and counties. Participating landowners, including 11 locals, four out-of-staters and the French-owned Areva company, would receive substantial lease payments. Investors would profit, and the addition of renewable energy to the grid would increase the area’s already considerable capacity in this market.
Environmental studies prepared by the developers do not constitute the comprehensive analysis that they claim. Notably, the studies fail to adequately assess habitat for hibernating and migrating bats around lava tube caves; widespread winter use by eagles and other raptors; and nesting/courtship habitat for migratory birds in junipers, basalt rimrock and on the ground. Fatality rates at nearby wind developments indicate that 4,588 bats and 1,700 birds would be killed at this new development every year. The studies also fail to recognize the iconic scenic value of the Twin Buttes, Hells Half Acre National Natural Landmark, and nighttime skies and neglect the archaeological and tribal significance of the Wasden site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Relying on incomplete information, the studies conclude “limited risk” and “minimal impacts” for local resources. Protective activities are limited to general industry standards, and these commitments do not protect wildlife designated by Idaho Fish and Game as species of greatest conservation need. Because the project is sited on state and private land, the developers claim repeatedly that these resources are simply “not afforded legal protections.”
An environmental evaluation that adequately addresses risks to local resources would rely on proven strategies. Bat and bird deaths would decrease if turbine blades are prevented from rotating when power is not being generated. Non-disturbance buffer zones around lava tubes and bird habitat would provide additional protection. Professional surveys for bat and bird carcasses would quantify fatality rates to further tailor protective actions. Public, recreation, education and research values would require a visual study that includes hiking/interpretive trails and historical signs on Highway 20 as well as a commitment to compensate for unavoidable adverse impacts to the Wasden site.
Local wildlife species flagged at risk by the state of Idaho and unique landscapes and historical sites deserve more than token consideration. I hope that county leaders will hold the developers accountable for correcting the shortfalls of the current environmental studies. Please contact Bonneville County Planning and Zoning for more information and attend their upcoming public meeting.
Brenda Pace is a retired archaeologist and a dedicated volunteer for bats, birds and other natural resources.
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