A resolution opposing the proposed Lava Ridge wind energy project will head to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives, after being passed out of committee on Wednesday.
House Concurrent Resolution 4 asks the governor and the attorney general take legal steps to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to select the Alternative A — the “No Build” option — for Lava Ridge, a project that could place up to 400 giant wind turbines on public lands northeast of Jerome.
Resolution sponsor Rep. Jack Nelsen, a Republican from Jerome, said the resolution itself encapsulates some of the many concerns that have come to him from constituents.
“This reinforces and summarizes what’s made our community so grumpy,” Nelsen told the Times-News in a Wednesday phone call. “It just shows how much our community is opposed to this.”
For Nelsen and other lawmakers, an outpouring of concerns from constituents has prompted many to carry their concerns forward.
“(Lava Ridge) is the first in a long line of applications for energy projects on federal lands,” Nelsen said. “This is like a gold rush to run out and pound your stakes and site projects on federal ground. There’s lots of applications following this.
“To me, it’s a bit of a precedent-setter. Is the BLM going to recognize local concerns or not?”
Following the 90-minute hearing, the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee voted unanimously to send the resolution to the House with a “Do Pass” endorsement.
Resolution co-sponsor Lance Clow, a Twin Falls Republican, told the committee that he and other legislators were struck by how broad the opposition to Lava Ridge was.
“I’ve never seen such an outpouring of citizens from all walks of life, all political persuasions that have come together in opposition to this project,” Clow said. “As a representative in a representative form of government, I could not help myself but to say, ‘This is where I must go.’”
LS Power project manager Luke Papez gave an overview of the project and told the committee that extensive federal regulatory process was well-established and thorough.
“The BLM’s process in our eyes is working,” Papez told the committee. “It is accepting the stakeholders’ and community feedback in an attempt to revise the project in such a way that the project can still be viable, but sensitive to the concerns and issues brought forward.”
With millions of dollars at risk to bring the project to the region, legislative resolution would send unfavorable message to other companies looking to do business in the state, Papez said.
Companies come to Idaho to do business, he said, and these companies expect consistency from the regulatory process.
These businesses hope that their individual proposals will be heard out through the process, he said.
“The resolution, I feel, starts to put a thumb on the scale mid-stream,” Papez said.
Testimony from 21 people, however, favored the resolution about 3-to-1.
Janet Keegan from Friends of Minidoka spoke in favor of the resolution by phone and told the committee that if this project went ahead it would be like history repeating itself.
“I feel that livelihoods will be taken away. People would be forced to move… that is what happened to 120,000 Japanese, mostly American citizens, 81 years ago,” Keegan said.
Joan Hurlock, who presented the committee with a petition containing 1,300 signatures, declared “war” against the Lava Ridge project.
“We are David against Goliath and face a giant with billions of dollars in their war chest,” Hurlock said. “Yes this is war, a war to save our land, livelihoods, history, and way of life.”
Ron Williams specializes in energy policy and represents LS Power. He spoke in opposition to the resolution and said that Idaho imports more energy than it produces.
“If you adopt this policy a message is sent that Idaho will continue to be a net energy importer and that Idaho is not open for energy development,” Williams said.
During discussion before the vote, Rep. Lauren Necochea, a Democrat from Boise, said changes would be needed to be made in how we generate electricity, but that more work needed to be done so that communities would see the benefits.
“I want to see more renewable energy projects moving forward in Idaho, but I will be supporting the resolution,” Necochea told the committee.