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Times-News Op-Ed: Climate change is here — and that’s why we need Lava Ridge

A picture of wind turbines on the horizon of a sunset with an adult holding a child silhouetted, looking triumphant.

Below is the guest commentary by Jeff Roper that was published in the Twin Falls Times-News on March 21. Read the original article here (please support local news).

Jeff Roper, this article’s author, is a retired English teacher living in Burley.

Dr. Dave Makings (Times-News, March 12) reminded us that as we consider the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project, the real issue is climate change.

This slow-rolling disaster that causes storms to be more intense, droughts and floods to be more extreme, and cities around the world to be within a couple of decades of permanent flooding is the only reason that as many as 400 huge (700-feet tall) windmills are now proposed along a Magic Valley ridge north of Eden/Hazelton and south of Dietrich.

Climate change is here. According to analysis conducted by climate scientists and economists at the University of Chicago and Rutgers University, my town of Burley had, on average, 34 days a year above 90 degrees when I was a child (1960s); today, we average 47 days a year above 90. By 2040, we probably will average 58, and by 2080, we likely will average 66 days above 90 degrees.

Two months of the year above 90 degrees — what will that do to our demand for irrigation water?

If we don’t over the next decade dramatically cut our use of fossil fuels, the main cause of rapid climate change, our grandchildren will live in a hellish world. Almost all climate science agrees about this — nearly every month new studies reinforce our understanding of the profound and increasing damage climate change creates.

So is the Lava Ridge project worth building given this understanding? Are the tradeoffs worth it? Wind projects like Lava Ridge will have to be built somewhere, as will huge solar farms and other cleaner energy projects, if we are to reduce our burning of fossil fuels, so the issue for us is where to build them.

There are tradeoffs. The impacts of Lava Ridge include disruption of cattle grazing on this BLM land (although cattle do graze underneath windmills across the U.S.), road and site construction (although these new roads could serve as effective fire breaks), water usage, bird deaths, the boom-and-bust cycle of having as many as 700 workers in the construction phase and then only 20 when the project is up and running, and the way our landscape view will be changed, particularly from the Minidoka National Historical Site where 13,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

All of these impacts except the last one would be present (in various forms) no matter where this project is built. Preserving the view from the Minidoka NHS is critical. The BLM has stated it prefers a reduced Lava Ridge project that moves windmills away the site — perhaps far enough away that the site’s historical value is maintained.

And I’m hopeful that bird deaths can be reduced, perhaps with new technologies, as more of these large windmills are installed around the world. To my mind however, with some tweaking to the project, these tradeoffs are worth the production of enough clean renewable energy to power 300,000 homes.

One additional argument against Lava Ridge is that the power generated won’t benefit Idaho. This isn’t a logical argument. Idaho is a net importer of power now. The power generated by Lava Ridge will go into the grid and be available for Idaho power companies. And this power will help reduce our dependency on fossil fuels wherever it is used.

I’m disappointed to see so many Idahoans, across the political spectrum, opposed to this wind project. I’m afraid this is mostly a NIMBY reaction — “We might need this project, but Not In My Back Yard.”

If we are going to avert the worst of climate change’s damage, this is exactly the kind of project we need.

Jeff Roper is a retired English teacher. He lives in Burley.

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