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Green projects hit snags in Idaho

Greener energy sources such as geothermal wells and sprawling wind farms are being touted as the nation's environmentally friendly answer to energy independence, but so far, alternative energy developers are finding that they face many of the same conflicts as traditional generation plants.

Concerns about wildlife habitat, aesthetics and competing interests have hindered a number of alternative energy proposals.

Greener energy sources such as geothermal wells and sprawling wind farms are being touted as the nation's environmentally friendly answer to energy independence, but so far, alternative energy developers are finding that they face many of the same conflicts as traditional generation plants.

A geothermal plant near Weiser shares land eyed by those who propose a reservoir for flood control and irrigation storage. Wind farms south of Twin Falls conflict with sage grouse habitat, raising endangered species protection questions. And wind farms in eastern Idaho have drawn the ire of powerful human neighbors.

The conflicts demonstrate that even projects designed to reduce Idaho's carbon footprint aren't guaranteed an easy path to completion.

"There are real issues out there that can thwart any project," said Paul Kjel-lender, director of Idaho's Office of Energy Resources.

Kjellender's office has been developing maps of known wind and geothermal resources in Idaho, layered with information about possible conflicts and assets such as transmission lines. He's urging companies that want... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Concerns about wildlife habitat, aesthetics and competing interests have hindered a number of alternative energy proposals.

Greener energy sources such as geothermal wells and sprawling wind farms are being touted as the nation's environmentally friendly answer to energy independence, but so far, alternative energy developers are finding that they face many of the same conflicts as traditional generation plants.

A geothermal plant near Weiser shares land eyed by those who propose a reservoir for flood control and irrigation storage. Wind farms south of Twin Falls conflict with sage grouse habitat, raising endangered species protection questions. And wind farms in eastern Idaho have drawn the ire of powerful human neighbors.

The conflicts demonstrate that even projects designed to reduce Idaho's carbon footprint aren't guaranteed an easy path to completion.

"There are real issues out there that can thwart any project," said Paul Kjel-lender, director of Idaho's Office of Energy Resources.

Kjellender's office has been developing maps of known wind and geothermal resources in Idaho, layered with information about possible conflicts and assets such as transmission lines. He's urging companies that want to tap into the state's alternative energy sources to look before they leap.

"If we wait until after there's been millions of dollars of project money spent, it makes it difficult to take a corrective step," Kjellender said.

HYDRO VERSUS GEOTHERMAL

The Crane Creek Hot Springs looked like a perfect site for a geothermal electric generation plant in Idaho.

By sinking wells 7,228 feet below the surface of a desolate site 12 miles west of Weiser, Colorado developer Agua Caliente hopes to produce 100 to 179 megawatts of electricity to power 60,000 to 100,000 homes. The company paid the Bureau of Land Management nearly $1.5 million in 2007 to lease the area identified by the Department of Energy as one of the most promising places for geothermal development in Idaho.

But earlier this year, with the support of the Idaho Legislature, the Idaho Water Resource Board resurrected an old proposal to build a dam on the Weiser River.

Federal officials had studied building Galloway Dam in the past for flood control and irrigation storage but backed off.

But if the dam is built, it would flood most of the geothermal area and could even threaten the underground hot water reservoirs. That prompted Agua Caliente to ask the board to permanently table the Galloway project.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill isn't ready to give up on Galloway yet. He's skeptical that flooding the area would hurt the underground resource that lies 4,000 to 7,000 feet below the surface.

In fact, he says the geothermal plant and a future hydroelectric dam at Galloway could benefit each other with access roads and transmission lines. The geothermal company could drill its wells at an angle or erect platforms in the reservoir.

He has met with Agua Caliente, the BLM and Kjellender.

"We are moving forward with the idea of a mutually beneficial project," Tuthill said.

Boise attorney Linda Jones, who represents Agua Caliente, was hopeful the state and her clients could find a solution.

"We are optimistic at this time," she said.

WINDS OF WAR

The most controversial wind farm in the state is the proposed China Mountain project, a 185-turbine wind project southwest of Rogerson in Twin Falls County. The project, which would be built on 30,000 acres of public land, would produce more than 400 megawatts of electricity.

Dave Parrish wrote in the Twin Falls Times-News in July when he was the Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional supervisor that the project would impact wildlife.

"It's a no-brainer - the footprint of a project that will cover prime habitat (for) sage grouse, mule deer, antelope and other sagebrush dependent species," he wrote. "Impacts will extend well beyond the acreage of sagebrush that's removed to support the infrastructure for the massive project which includes around 70 miles of new and improved roads, up to 15 miles of new power line construction, substations, maintenance facilities and more."

Parrish was demoted after the letter ran and after Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, complained to Gov. Butch Otter.

In eastern Idaho, Natural Guardian Limited Partnership of Idaho Falls, started by Melaleuca Inc. CEO Frank VanderSloot, requested a judicial review of Bingham County commissioners' August approval of two wind farms. Commissioners approved Ridgeline Energy LLC's 150-turbine wind farm on 20,000 acres along Wolverine Canyon, a popular recreation area southeast of Idaho Falls.

VanderSloot said the wind farm ruined the view from his cabin.

THE LARGER DEBATE

Alternative energy developers say companies can avoid many of these disputes by making wise siting decisions, using science to avoid wildlife habitat and making sure that opponents don't have grounds to stop construction.

"Responsible developers are anticipating those conflicts so they avoid them," said Rich Rayhill, Ridgeline Energy vice president. "That's just good business.

"If you don't do that, they'll stop you in court."

But others question whether these giant "green" operations represent the future of power.

Laird Lucas, lead attorney for Advocates of the West, a group that provides lawyers for environmental groups, is preparing to challenge several wind projects planned in sagebrush habitat critical to sage grouse and other desert species.

He's skeptical that wind, solar and geothermal plants spread out across the wide open spaces of the West and linked to populated areas through vast transmissions systems are the answer to increasing carbon-free energy supplies.

"I think there's a chance that these big solar farms and wind farms will be obsolete almost as soon as we develop them," Lucas said. "We need to somehow get people engaged directly in producing our own energy."


Source: http://www.idahostatesman.c...

JAN 2 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/18449-green-projects-hit-snags-in-idaho
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