Lava Ridge Wind Power Proposal
by Brad Carlson
Lava Ridge stands to affect 42 ranching families
Loss of grazing land, more traffic and an impact on water availability are among the concerns Shoshone-area rancher John Arkoosh and his neighbors have about Lava Ridge, a sprawling wind project proposed in south-central Idaho.
It would impact the Star Lake Allotment, where his family and other ranching families have done "a ton of work on water development, seeding development and fencing, and have maintained water lines," he said.
Star Lake, the primary allotment for the Arkoosh family and a half dozen others, has about five wells, more than 100 miles of pipeline and 45 troughs. About eight years ago they formed a rangeland fire protection association.
"We've invested a lot in making it a good place," he said. The wind power development would also impact the Sid Butte, Milner and Wild Horse allotments.
Lava Ridge, with the potential to generate more than 1 gigawatt -- 1,000 megawatts -- of electricity, would be one of the biggest wind projects in the nation. Plans call for as many as 400 wind turbines up to 740 feet tall, seven substations, a battery system, collection and transmission infrastructure, and roads and fences on about 73,000 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management ground in Jerome, Lincoln and Minidoka counties. A draft environmental impact statement is expected in mid-January.
The developer is Magic Valley Energy, a unit of LS Power.
"We recognize the impact on ranching and farming" and "have been coordinating with them since the beginning," said Luke Papez, Nevada-based senior director of project development for LS. The developer plans to alleviate potential impacts, such as by replacing lost forage.
"The problem always has been how big they want to make this thing," said Darren Taber, a Lincoln County farmer.
Access to on-site roads would be from narrower roads designed for tiny traffic volumes and farm vehicles, he said.
Dean Dimond, whose farm could be less than an eighth of a mile south of a turbine depending on the final design, said that in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer's lava rock, most wells lack the traditional long case to keep the hole open.
The aquifer is less like a lake and more like "a series of lava tubes," he said. He's concerned the tall towers' vibrations could cause partial cave-ins or alter groundwater flow.
Potential impact on raptors also concerns Dimond, as "about every third or fourth year we get hit with a vole infestation" that the birds of prey help alleviate.
Stronger, farther-reaching wind turbulence from the bigger towers is among Crop Jet Aviation owner George Parker's concerns. Pilots would face new safety considerations. Lava Ridge stands to affect 42 ranching families and about 62,000 animal unit months, Arkoosh said. An AUM is a measure of a month's worth of forage for a cow-calf pair or five sheep with lambs. Replacement of 30% to 50% of total feed would be needed.
Magic Valley Energy has also proposed the Salmon Falls wind project in Twin Falls County on federal land. It would generate up to 800 megawatts using as many as 280 wind turbines. It stands to impact 24 ranching operations and about 34,000 animal unit months, he said.
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