Last week, Idaho Energy Freedom’s Advisory Council heard from Magic Valley Energy regarding the draft EIS on the Lava Ridge Wind Project. Our council members are studying the document and listening to all perspectives with an open mind. We suggest you do the same before submitting your comment about Lava Ridge prior to the April 20 deadline.
Wind power has been successfully incorporated into ranching operations and other locations across the country for decades. Wind turbines have historically mixed successfully with grazing operations, and their small footprint allows cattle to graze near the turbine bases. Magic Valley Energy says implementation of the Lava Ridge project will provide an opportunity for new or improved ranch infrastructure. All renewable projects are required to provide mitigation for impacts, which can increase the speed and scope of infrastructure implementation.
In its review of the area proposed for Lava Ridge, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) describes how each of its five options would impact livestock grazing allotments and AUMs (animal unit month, or how much forage a cow consumes in a month), and although the draft EIS presents the numbers in accessible tables for quick comparison, there is more to the impact to land and livestock than there might seem initially.
The BLM analyzed the question ‘How would the [Lava Ridge] project affect areas available for livestock grazing and subsequent active AUMs in BLM grazing allotments?’ by pulling allotment permit information, along with their AUM data, and the allotment management plans for each to determine the number of acres of temporary and/or permanent loss of grazing acreage from the project. The draft EIS considers vegetation disturbance, addition of infrastructure, or fencing and estimates any change in active AUMs by multiplying the current stocking rate by the change in available allotment acres.
This is where understanding becomes a bit complex. Lava Ridge, if approved, would impact up to nine BLM public land grazing allotments, depending on which action alternative is chosen.
Construction and Decommissioning
Any restrictions on grazing would be temporary during construction and again during decommission, but Magic Valley Energy would provide feed sources for the livestock during construction and decommission by arranging accommodations on other rangeland, private property, and/or feedlot space. For Alternative B (the alternative with the highest impact), grazing restrictions would impact Sid Butte at a significantly higher than the rest (34.9%), making it an outlier; otherwise, impact ranges from 5% to 0.2% with an average of 1.43% disturbance if the Sid Butte outlier is removed.
According to MVE, because the Lava Ridge project will be built in phases and the goal is to hold all ranchers harmless, the 34.9% number is a bit out of context for Sid Butte. Renewable projects offer opportunities to increase the speed and scope of grazing infrastructure implementation, which can lead to overall healthier rangelands and grazing operations.
“At the suggestion of current grazing permittees, MVE is committing to build the project in phases with plans to limit the active construction areas to roughly one-third of the project area at a time,” said Amy Schutte, spokeswoman for MVE. “This will allow those grazers who wish to remain on the allotment to do so.”
Over the long term, the draft EIS expects that only 1% of the rangeland forage will be impacted during the operation phase of the project. MVE is actively pursuing arrangements that will not only hold the grazing permittees harmless, but offer opportunities for them to benefit from the implementation of the project.
The AUMs are fairly comparable, with Sid Butte significantly higher than the others at 2,442 unavailable AUMs. The rest range from 0 to 813, with an average of 132 for the eight allotments left when Sid Butte is excluded.
This means that, without comparing this alternative to the others, Alternative B would have relatively low negative impact to grazing, except to the Sid Butte allotment, and since Alternative B is the alternative with the highest proposed impact, the effects would be less in other alternatives. We recommend you look at the charts and identify which alternative you prefer.
Operation and Final Reclamation
After decommissioning, the wind turbines will be fully operational and simply need standard maintenance for 30 years.
During this time, looking again at Alternative B, for consistency, the percentage of acres unavailable for grazing ranged from <0.1% to 1.3% (on Star Lake) with no outliers. Star Lake is an outlier for unavailable AUMs at 212, with the rest ranging from 0 to 76, averaging 17.4 unavailable AUMs.
For the following three decades the wind turbines would be producing power, MVE will have a range coordinator on call during construction and operation to assist with any grazing-related issues.
Although data in the draft EIS is a bit scarce on whether noise from wind turbines will disturb livestock, the existing research points to no short-term or long-term negative effects on livestock, echoed by the Center for Eco Technology.
Then, for the two years the turbines will undergo final reclamation, MVE and BLM will take on revegetation of the affected areas. The draft EIS estimates that will likely take about two years but could take up to five, but after it’s all said and done, the largest percent of grazing that would remain unavailable under any alternative is less than 1%.
While the DEIS does contain a lot of good data, some points lack context. We’d asked MVE more more specifics to mitigate any long-term negative impact to grazing operations, and what BLM or MVE would do should an issue arise outside of the on-call range coordinator.
Amy Schutte, spokesperson for MVE, told Idaho Energy Freedom that the grazing plan was created by Jack Alexander, a Certified Rangeland Consultant and President of Synergy Resource Solutions, with input from the Bureau of Land Management and grazing permittees in the project area.
Alexander’s report on grazing operations indicates Lava Ridge will include improvements to grazing plans and ranch improvements such as:
- Opportunity for new or improved ranch infrastructure
- New water facilities, troughs, pipelines, new and improved fences, new cattle guards, and other tools that will improve grazing distribution
- Restoration of the land will focus on weed control and reseeding of species with a high likelihood of seeding success.
Whether this data constitutes a reasonable amount of livestock grazing disturbance for the amount of energy and economy the wind project will play out as the BLM adopts one (or none) of the proposed alternatives outlined in the draft EIS.
You can influence the process by making your voice heard during the public comment period, which was extended for an extra 30 days, so the new deadline is April 20, 2023. This blog is just a snapshot of the information contained in the draft EIS. Please take the time to look at each alternative and decide for yourself which proposal you support most, and ask questions that arise during your research. Then, submit a well-informed perspective during the public comment period.