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Developer pitches unique $1 billion hydropower project in Idaho March 5, 2009

A hydropower developer wants to build a $1 billion, 1,100-megawatt project, in part on federal land, in south-central Idaho.

Symbiotics LLC has filed a request with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit to study building the project several miles west of Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir near Rogerson.

Symbiotics, a multistate company that has offices in Rigby and Boise, wants to build two reservoirs storing 20,000 acre-feet of water behind two 200-foot-tall earthen dams. The project would include a nearly one-mile shaft with 10 turbines buried underneath the site.

Justin Barker, a spokesman with Symbiotics, said the system would be “like a giant battery,” running water between the two reservoirs.

The commission is taking public comments on what is now called the proposed Corral Creek South Pumped Storage Project.

The water pump would itself need to be powered, possibly by wind or solar power.

Barker said the project could cost up to $1 billion. The three-year study, he said, could cost as much as $15 million.

The project includes 1,400 acres belonging to the Bureau of Land Management, and faces some challenges. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has maps that show sage-grouse breeding sites that could be affected. Sage grouse are being considered for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Finding water to fill the reservoirs could also be difficult. Salmon Falls Reservoir has been low for much of the last decade.

“That’s one of the biggest issues, is whether we can negotiate with the water-rights holders within the region,” Barker said.

Also, a 185-wind farm is planned for the hills west of the proposed hydroproject. However, the two power-producing facilities could end up complementing each other if they are built.

–The Associated Press