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Twin Falls County to consider moratorium on big renewable energy projects

A farmer in a tractor plows a field with wind turbines in the background.
John Miller
A farmer plows a field near wind turbines owned by Chicago-based Exelon Corp. outside of Mountain Home, Idaho on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

In the early 2000s, when the dairy industry was rapidly expanding in the Magic Valley, Twin Falls County issued a short-term moratorium on new, large farms. During that period, it created special permitting regulations for farms with 1,000 or more cows.

That’s similar to what the county is proposing now to address the increased interest in large-scale renewable energy projects.

“That’s what gave us the idea on this,” said Commissioner Jack Johnson. “We just need to slow this down or stop it so we can get ordinances that will help guide our Planning and Zoning Commission as these projects come in.”

An ordinance the commissioners are considering would block new utility-scale renewable energy projects for 182 days.

The moratorium will be discussed at a July 26 public hearing. It won’t apply to projects on public lands, Johnson said, as the county doesn’t have oversight over those.

“But on the private, we do,” he said, “and we want to make sure that citizens and landowners and their neighbors are taken care of on both ends of the spectrum.”

Johnson said, among other things, the county could adopt regulations to ensure taxpayers aren’t on the hook for a project’s cleanup after its lifespan.

The Magic Valley is currently a hotspot for renewable energy proposals on Bureau of Land Management land.

The project that’s the farthest along in the review process, Lava Ridge, is not in Twin Falls County. But LS Power, the company behind it, is also proposing an 800-megawatt development called Salmon Falls inside the county boundaries.

The Twin Falls County Commissioners signed a resolution against the project last year.

Local opposition to renewable energy development is growing and has the potential to thwart climate goals, according to a report by Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. The team found 59 new local restrictions implemented between its March 2022 and May 2023 reports, ranging from additional zoning barriers to complete bans.

In Idaho, the report found, Bingham County has had an ordinance in place since 2012 that requires certain setbacks for wind projects, and, in 2010, Bonneville County limited wind farm proposals to a specific area.

There are currently eleven wind farms on private land in Twin Falls County, according to a federal database. They all were developed between 2005 and 2012, and together the turbines have the capacity to generate 183 megawatts of power.

Additionally, the largest solar farm in the state, Jackpot Solar, came online in southern Twin Falls County earlier this year. With 120 megawatts of capacity, the operation will sell energy to Idaho Power, which has a goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045.

Johnson said he’s heard “mostly negative” feedback about renewable energy projects locally. But they also contribute to the taxbase – wind more so than solar, Johnson said.

A seven-turbine wind farm that’s been spinning since 2005 in the northwest part of the county brings in “a fairly good amount of money” for the local taxing districts there, Johnson said. “So, that’s probably a good place for it,” he said.

The July 26 hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Public comments can be sent to commiss@tfco.org by July 24.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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