Due to the new presidential administration, a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed lease of national forest land to build a geothermal power plant near the confluence of the Salmon River and Panther Creek has been postponed until March.

    The proposed site covers almost nine square miles on the Salmon-Challis National Forest about 25 miles west of the town of Salmon.

    A draft EIS was originally scheduled for completion in May 2016 and a final EIS in September.  Last fall, Julie Hopkins, minerals program manager on the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said release of the draft EIS was postponed to mid-January. Last week, she said the document is now expected to be released sometime in March.

    “Because of the change in administration, we’re going through a little additional review,” Hopkins said. “There’s all new people in a lot of the key positions all up the line.”

Ormat Technologies, a publicly held company headquartered in Reno, Nev., wants the right to use hot water from Panther Creek Hot Springs to produce power that would be connected to Idaho Power’s grid. A BLM study of geothermal potential in the West estimated that the site has 10-20 megawatts of generating capacity—enough to power up to 20,000 homes.

    The current analysis is only for a 10-year lease of public land, and no ground-disturbing activities are immediately proposed. Leases confer the exclusive right to develop the geothermal resource with the opportunity for extensions in five-year increments. Prior to any ground-disturbing activities, the lease holder would have to submit additional applications for exploration, development and use, the Forest Service stated in a Federal Register entry in September 2015.

    Two Idaho conservation groups have advised the Forest Service to move cautiously on the application, due to the potential for a large, factory-like facility adjacent to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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