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Analysis: Countering Misinformation About the Lava Ridge Wind Project

Outline of wind turbines in a field as sun sets

Let the public EIS process play out.

Be wary of people and groups who form opinions before they’ve seen all the facts.

The draft EIS statement on the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project was released on January 20, 2023 and immediately folks began playing Chicken Little. This does nothing but detract from the important details and valid points on both sides of the issue. In fact, part of why the EIS process is so important is because it takes into consideration the scientific facts, citing information, and is expected have answers on everything from bats and birds to the Minidoka Historic Site. As the public forms their opinions and weigh in through the public process, it is important to counter some of the widespread misinformation about this project, including a recent Jesse Watters’ segment on FOX News.

Idaho Energy Freedom is passionate about correcting misinformation about all forms of clean energy, be it solar, wind, or small module reactor nuclear. In particular, we take issue with regard to the segment’s assertions on water use, importing and exporting of energy, and the economic benefits of clean energy for our state.

The Lava Ridge wind project reflects growing demand from major companies from Idaho Power to Simplot to Chobani to Meta for clean energy options in our state. Most Idahoans support free-market capitalism, including when it comes to energy development.

The misinformation about the economic benefits of wind power to communities relies heavily on speculation about the future. Studies and history of wind development in the U.S. show that wind energy benefits individuals and communities both in the short-term and long-term,  through significant direct investments in local communities. The short-term job creation includes construction-related employment, supporting professional jobs such as environmental impact researchers and attorneys as well as operations and maintenance from people with localized knowledge, and manufacturing jobs that are needed before, during, and after the project. These projects also create long-term operations and maintenance jobs that pay higher than most maintenance professions.

Additionally, the leasing and royalty agreements provide an additional source of income to rural landowners and farmers, which help farmers get through tough times and makes them more prosperous in these times of slow employment growth, and higher poverty rates in the tri-county area. The three counties impacted by Lava Ridge are among the poorest in Idaho and would stand to benefit from the economic boon of energy development. Claims that farmers in the Lava Ridge area will be put out of business because of the wind turbines are inaccurate. Magic Valley Energy wants to invest in the communities in Lincoln, Minidoka, and Jerome counties by improving roads, fire mitigation strategies, and has already donated to local schools and other causes.

Another topic of discussion about the Lava Ridge project involves water use for the proposed wind turbines. Energy and geological experts explain in this article that water use for wind turbines is minimal, and for the Lava Ridge project specifically, it is so minimal that it is equal to pausing water use on 75 acres of farmland for two years, largely because builders are taking advantage of Lava Ridge’s natural resource — basalt. Once constructed and operating, wind turbines use NO water!

Additionally, many people have questions about where the power is going and why it needs to be built in Idaho if energy is going to be exported. Just like all other products Idaho exports: potatoes, corn, wheat, and other crops, Idaho will produce more than it consumes, and will sell the extra. Lava Ridge’s wind project will produce more energy than Idaho can consume, and will become part of the Western Energy Imbalance Market WEIM, (in which Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power both directly participate) which allows participants to buy and sell power close to the time electricity is consumed, and gives system operators real-time visibility across neighboring grids. The result improves balancing supply and demand at a lower cost. Currently, WEIM has partnerships with 19 entities such as Idaho Power, Tacoma Power, Tucson Electric Power, and PacifiCorp, with pending partnerships with more.

Wind energy is clean energy. It’s not the only kind, nor should it be, but as an abundant and inexhaustible source of energy, it is part of our future energy mix. Currently, wind is the number one kind of renewable energy in the country, with large Idaho businesses such as Idaho Power, Micron, HP, Chobani, and more publicly committing to fewer greenhouse gas emissions and clean energy implementation. Although there are some negative environmental effects from modern wind turbines, such as visually changing the landscape and occasional lubricated fluid leaks, those leaks are rare, and the overall energy production is overwhelmingly clean as it is an emissions-free source of energy, helping us avoid 330 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually — the equivalent of 72 million cars’ worth of emissions.

We think it’s important to let the public EIS process play out on Lava Ridge. Let’s hear community concerns, but in a way that is civil and doesn’t spread misinformation. It is imperative that we judge this project on its merits.  After all, there’s over 500 wind turbines already in Idaho, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

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