21-05-12 Cat Creek Graphic_Kristen Kaiser-WF

A three-component energy project proposed for a site near Anderson Ranch Reservoir would include construction of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant with a new reservoir, a wind turbine complex and a photovoltaic solar-panel complex.

An annual progress report filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by Cat Creek Energy indicates that the company is still pursuing construction of a huge power-generation project west of Fairfield.

The $1.5 billion project, proposed by the Faulkner sheep-ranching family in Gooding, would consist of a pumped-storage hydro facility above Anderson Ranch Reservoir, 170,000 photovoltaic solar panels and up to 39 380-foot-tall wind turbines on both sides of U.S. Highway 20 near Cat Creek Summit.

During an Elmore County Planning and Zoning Commission hearing in 2016, Jack Faulkner said the family had been raising sheep for almost 80 years, but is finding survival in that business increasingly difficult. The energy project is a way to diversify, he said.

The project would be built on private ranch land owned by the Faulkner family and other partners, and the electricity generated would be connected through an 8-mile-long transmission line to a Bonneville Power Administration substation to the west.

Cat Creek Energy has received a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the pumped-storage portion of the project and is required to submit annual progress reports to maintain the permit. This year’s report, filed April 21, states that the company is still working on preliminary design of the powerhouse, turbines, upper reservoir and other components of the facility. Data is being collected regarding aquatics in Anderson Ranch Reservoir and the South Fork of the Boise River to support development of an environmental analysis, and surveys of sage grouse are being conducted, the report states.

Boise State University and the University of California-Merced have been engaged to conduct studies of the market for the power generated by the proposed project.

The Elmore County commissioners approved five conditional-use permits for the various components of the project in 2017. However, those approvals have been contested by a lawsuit filed by Blaine County resident Chris Stephens, who owns a 3,000-acre property called S Bar Ranch just south of the proposed site for the wind turbines. Stephens claims that he was not given proper notice during Planning and Zoning Commission hearings on the applications and was denied his right to be heard on the issue. His lawsuit contends that none of the notices issued by the P&Z or the Board of County Commissioners identified the exact location of the wind turbines.

Stephens’ case was dismissed in Fourth District Court in Elmore County, but he has appealed that decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. A brief arguing Stephens’ claims was filed with the court on April 23.

On its Facebook page, S Bar Ranch states that it is “a privately held game reserve on Idaho’s Camas Prairie … dedicated to providing excellent habitat to elk, deer and sage grouse that roam the area for future generations.”

For the pumped-storage portion of the project, Cat Creek Energy also needs to obtain a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a water right from the Idaho Department of Water Resources. The Federal Aviation Administration has to sign off on the wind turbines.

According to the energy industry news website Power, a Cat Creek spokesperson said the company is targeting an operation-start date within five years—by 2026.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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