Lava Ridge project shows lack of concern for wildlife, important cultural sites in Southern Idaho

As a Magic Valley native who enjoys and loves our wildlands, viewscapes and open spaces, this project shows a concerning pattern, writes guest columnist Stephanie Novacek.

March 4, 2023 4:00 am
Lava Ridge Wind Project map

The Lava Ridge Wind Project is proposed for south central Idaho, just northeast from Twin Falls. (Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Managment)

South Central Idaho is facing three proposed wind turbine projects that would consume over 200,000 acres in our Magic Valley. And there are at least eight more proposals waiting in the wings. 

As a Magic Valley native who enjoys and loves our wildlands, viewscapes and open spaces, this is a concerning pattern. Specifically, LS Power aka Magic Valley Energy, is a green energy company based in Delaware, who proposes to build the Lava Ridge turbine site on our desert rangelands. All this in order to transmit and sell the energy to Las Vegas and California. 

This project would become one of the largest wind sites in the U.S.— and the largest project on public land — containing 400 turbines, some of which will be 740 feet tall. These turbines and their lights will be seen 30 to40 miles away from the actual site, day and night. 

The draft EIS estimates 3,240 to 5,654 bird fatalities per year, with a maximum of 10,200 to 17,799 fatalities per year, according to reporting from the Times-News. Idaho’s bald and golden eagles, hawks and bats will meet their grisly end because of the huge turbines. We know that bird and bat migration habits and behaviors are disrupted by the presence of wind turbines. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey found that the vast majority of tree bats migrate and mate during summer and early fall, which is also when the vast majority of bat fatalities are recorded near wind turbines

LS Power is wanting to build on sacred, religious Native American grounds. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement lists that “150 artifact sites” were found during the limited research. The involved tribes will attest to there being thousands of sites that are sacred to them. LS Power states that they will perform “quick checks” of each site before blasting would begin.

The Minidoka National Historical Monument is the site of the World War II Japanese-American incarceration camp. It was built specifically due to the remoteness, inaccessibility and isolation of this area. Many Japanese-Americans visit this site annually, to remember and honor family and friends who were incarcerated and died here. LS Power’s EIS refers to these visitors as “tourists and recreationists” instead of survivors and mourners. These turbines will be viewed from anywhere you may walk, when visiting this historical monument. They will diminish the overall environment of loneliness and the seclusion that the internees felt in the 1940s. This community deserves better.

Minidoka honor roll
A bald eagle cutout sits atop the military honor roll replica that shows the names of Japanese Americans who served from Minidoka. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Minidoka National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service, as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America. (Courtesy of the Minidoka National Historic Site)

LS Power estimates there will be 2,200 daily vehicle trips across the desert roads during their two-year construction window. But it also states it should not require “too much water to abate the dust.” The giant equipment required to perform such construction will absolutely destroy the native desert vegetation, will extinguish the fences, water lines and tanks previously installed by the ranchers and will surely obliterate any Native American sacred locations and artifacts.

The proposed Lava Ridge location was selected partially based on the wind quality in the area, accessibility to markets by existing and planned transmission lines (with huge tower footprints) and the availability of “suitable” land. In my mind, “suitable” would be much closer to the intended end-users, not thousands of miles away. Their lack of concern for current land uses such as wintering grounds and migration routes for big game, the known bald and golden eagle and sage grouse populations, public recreation, grazing; and the areas of critical environmental concern: the high risk of wildfires, the Jerome airport access, the Wilson Butte site-home to human remains that are carbon dated over 14,000 years old-rewriting previous archeological dating records only supports their thought process of “mitigating” any problematic issues.

Don’t be fooled by their local ads, which emphasize how many dollars they will add to our economy. At full operating capacity, LS Power stands to receive over $273 million dollar-for-dollar tax credits through the renewable electricity production tax credit, or PTC — a per kilowatt-hour federal tax credit included in the U.S. tax code for electricity generated by qualified renewable energy resources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The PTC provides up to 2.6 cents/kWh for electricity generated from wind, closed-loop biomass and geothermal resources. Guess who is funding this program? Any and all U.S. taxpayers.

The Draft EIS calculates 34 years project construction, operation and decommissioning, plus 50 years for vegetation to reestablish after final reclamation. Collectively, this area will be completely disrupted, possibly fenced off and altered for at least 80 years … one entire generation.

I believe Southern Idaho should be preserved for generations to come. Residents can learn more about the public comment period, which closes on April 20, and how to submit feedback by going to the BLM website.

“A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” — John Sawhill


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Stephanie Novacek
Stephanie Novacek

Stephanie Novacek is a lifelong Southern Idaho resident born and raised in the Magic Valley and a concerned citizen helping to protect our farms and public lands from federal overreach.