Idaho Wind Farm Scuttled over Sage Grouse Concerns

Published May 31, 2016

A Las Vegas power company has withdrawn plans to build a large wind farm in southern Idaho that would provide electricity to parts of Idaho and Nevada. U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concerns over the how the wind farm might harm sage grouse in the area had delayed federal approval of the plan, which ultimately led the power company to pull the plug on the project.

Wind Power Threatens Birds

Las Vegas-based NV Energy had teamed up with RES America Development to build the China Mountain Wind Project, which would have built 170 to 200 wind turbines. Situated on 25,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and 10,000 acres belonging to private owners and the State of Idaho, the project was trumpeted to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy.  

From the outset, however, conservationists expressed concern the project would destroy habitat of the greater sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird found in 11 states in the West and most prevalent in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. The Obama administration has designated the sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act but has not yet listed the bird under the ESA, arguing other species take priority. A federal court has given FWS until September 30, 2015 to reach a final decision on listing.  

The court’s ruling has FWS and state wildlife officials scrambling to develop plans to protect the bird.
State officials are particularly concerned harsh ESA restrictions on land use will deal a devastating blow to local economies. In March, BLM notified NV Energy and RES America Development of further delays in completing its environmental impact statement for the wind farm, noting the project encompassed 42 percent of the sage grouse’s western habitat. For NV Energy, which had already sunk $6 million into the project, this was the last straw.  

Double-Edged Sword

“The scientific justification for sage grouse protection under the Endangered Species Act is quite weak,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute. “That being said, there is some poetic justice to watching wind power, the favored electricity source of environmental activist groups, being curtailed by the same restrictions they frequently and unjustifiably impose on conventional energy sources.”

“NV Energy’s proposed wind farm illustrates how all methods of power generation create some negative environmental consequences,” Lehr added. “Wind power’s death toll on bird populations is especially troublesome.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.