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Hundreds rally against proposed large Idaho wind farm

| April 13, 2023 10:35 AM

TWIN FALLS (AP) — Several hundred people rallied against plans for a large-scale wind energy project in southern Idaho, hoping to convince federal agencies to reject the proposal by Magic Valley Energy.

“I hope that this is enough to put a plug in this and stop these projects from desecrating our public lands,” Twin Falls County Commissioner Jack Johnson told the crowd Tuesday, The Times-News reported.

The Lava Ridge wind farm would put up to 400 wind turbines on about 118 square miles (306 square kilometers) of public land, including land near the Minidoka internment camp where more than 9,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

If built, the wind farm would be the second-largest in the U.S., producing up to 1,000 megawatts and doubling the amount of wind energy produced in Idaho.

But the plan has drawn widespread opposition from government leaders, local ranchers and people who say the project endangers the Minidoka National Historic Site, which commemorates the thousands of people with Japanese ancestry who were ordered by the U.S. government into prison camps around the country starting in 1942.

The Biden Administration has prioritized permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2025 as part of its response to climate change. Magic Valley Energy, which is a subsidiary of New York-based LS Power, said the project would dramatically increase economic activity in the area in part by bringing in jobs and increasing local government tax revenues. The company hopes to win approval to begin construction this year, aiming to have the wind farm operating by 2025.

The federal Bureau of Land Management began collecting public comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the wind farm in January, and the public comment period ends April 20.

Rancher David Looper's cattle graze on public land that falls within the impact zone of the wind farm. He told the crowd he loves living in Idaho because the state has few regulations, but said the lack of rules has also drawn national corporations looking to make a buck.

“They come here because they thought we were a bunch of dumb hillbillies,” Looper said. “They were going to slide it through … and they were going to walk out of here rich.”

Others at the rally talked about the impact the turbines might have on wildlife — the draft impact statement estimates 10,000 bird fatalities each year — and said minority groups had been left out of the planning process.

Julie Arroyo noted that Spanish-speaking residents in Jerome County make up 40% of the population, but the draft Environmental Impact Statement wasn't made available in that language. She asked rally-goers to “blow up the phone” of the land management bureau and the Department of the Interior to complain.

“Idaho is not going to stand down and let their minorities be treated like second-class citizens,” she said.

This story was first published April 12, 2023. It was updated on April 13, 2023, to correct the wind farm’s potential capacity. If built, the wind farm would have a capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts, not 1,000 megavolts.

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