China Mountain/Browns Bench Wind controversy escalates

“I can assure you there will be a protracted legal fight using all legal means available to stop the project”

Brown's Bench, RES America proposes to put hundreds of giant wind turbines on this southern Idaho landscape © Brian Ertz 2010

Some of the really great things I enjoy about living in the west are the obscure landscapes/mountain ranges.  Unlike national parks, ‘W‘ilderness areas, National Monuments and other landscapes prominently highlighted on any western map, there are many public landscapes less conspicuous, maybe not even labeled on a common roadmap, belonging to all of us that are best known by the locals ~ sportsmen, anglers, ranchers, really hardcore conservationists and recreationists.  Landscapes that harbor habitat and wildlife that exemplify its original nature.

West of 93 on the ID/NV line

These less conspicuous areas are where I learned to hunt and fish with my brothers, places I continue to frequent to hike, botanize and view wildlife with my kids.  Public lands that have served countless generations in such an economically intangible way, uplifting our spirit and serving our truly unique and blessed standard of living.  If you’re reading this, it’s likely you know what I mean.

Increasingly, these places find themselves under threat by new energy technologies which extend the reach of our human ability to extract resources into places otherwise overlooked by industry yesteryear.

In southern Idaho, just west of Highway 93 on the Idaho/Nevada line, Brown’s Bench is just such a place.

Concerned about grouse, groups ask China Mountain developer to reconsider – Opposition Rises as Wind Farm Study Nears – Times-News

One by one, organizations weighing the land against the wind are concluding that more green energy doesn’t outweigh the risk to sage grouse.

The company proposing the huge China Mountain Wind Project is RES Americas, a subsidiary of a European corporation.
That’s right, American pubic lands leased to benefit foreign investors, not local economies.

Despite constructive criticism suggesting alternative siting, RES Americas has insisted on Brown’s Bench, an island of pristine habitat among a sea of the burned and denuded Snake River Plain, as the location for its proposed China Mountain Wind Project.  The proposed eEarth Saved, Game Overnergy development will burden these public lands with up to 400 giant wind towers in order to supply Las Vegas, Nevada the energy it demands to keep its casinos lit 24/7.

That’s right, the power won’t serve local cities like Twin Falls or even the largest metropolitan city of Boise.  What’s not lost across the entire length of the state of Nevada via transmission lines will be used to light the night in the wasteful resource sucking “sin city”, Las Vegas.

To facilitate this development, RES Americas intends to blade up to 70 miles of new and reconstructed roads forever fragmenting habitat on this remarkable landscape renowned for being among the last intact, highest quality sage-steppe landscapes in Idaho.

The quality of wildlife habitat at Brown’s Bench is critically important for imperiled sagebrush obligate species such as sage grouse and pygmy rabbit as well has highly valued big game habitat prompting significant concern from wildlife groups.

Email correspondence between WWP & RES Americas – October 1, 2010

I do think it important to mention to you that WWP has concluded that there is no degree of mitigation we can imagine that would be sufficient to ameliorate the negative impacts of the proposed China Mountain Wind Project on this critical wildlife habitat landscape.

The impacts of the proposed project will effectively doom the Brown’s Bench area for future use by sage steppe dependent species. This level of impact is so harsh that WWP has concluded that the China Mountain Project should not be built.


Should the BLM proceed with some level of approval for the China Mountain Wind Project (something we anticipate if Ken Salazar remains as Secretary of the Interior), I can assure you there will be a protracted legal fight using all legal means available to stop the project.

I don’t say this lightly or as a threat but rather as a simple statement of fact. As someone who is very interested in helping to break the stranglehold of the petroleum-based economy in which we now live, I am sure I share many viewpoints with you and other staff at RES Americas; however, as WWP has made clear for a long time now renewable energy projects that are proposed for the least disturbed parts of our public lands are not welcome. There are ample locations in the United States where wind resources are plentiful and even better than those on Browns Bench and China Mountain. Those areas include lands already radically altered by agriculture and other forms of human development, and, in my and WWP’s opinion, those are the places where large scale wind projects like this should be built.

Letter To The Editor: China Mountain project will harm sage grouseTimes-News

Brown's Bench with Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir in the background © Brian Ertz 2010

What is so absurd about this and other proposals is that legitimate alternatives exist; Distributed, or decentralized, production makes economic and ecological sense and even if one were to concede the need for utility scale Big Energy (that turns out to be even less efficient than industry claims), the highly denuded Snake River Plain just north of Brown’s Bench has equitable wind as Wind developers’ interest and efforts there demonstrate the economic viability of these alternatives.

Brown's Bench © Brian Ertz 2010

Benjamin Ertz beams in the pristine sagebrush habitat prior to flushing sage grouse, maybe we'll run into a pygmy rabbit ! © Brian Ertz 2009

Rimrock © Brian Ertz 2009

Big country © Brian Ertz 2009
© Katie Fite 2008

Rock Formations © Brian Ertz 2009

Balance © Brian Ertz 2009

Cactus blooms © Brian Ertz 2007

Wildflowers © Brian Ertz 2008

Sage-steppe habitat © Brian Ertz 2008
© Katie Fite 2008


  1. S.Smith Avatar

    Cut off one head of the energy-horror hydra and another appears. Articles like this fill me expletive-rage because the Big Money backing such projects so often gets what it wants despite the tragedies they cause to local human and animal populations along the way.

    Thanks for keeping an eye on them.

    I wonder: how much clout does the WWP have to stop the project?

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar


      the final decision isn’t out – and the Final Jarbidge RMP isn’t out either – which weighs in on the BLM’s determination as to the appropriateness of the site given other values. The draft RMP’s preferred alternative ruled out Brown’s Bench as an appropriate site for Wind given its importance to sage grouse and other values … but, it’s just the draft and the political/economic pressures are surely weighing in hard and there will be stiff arguments to be made about the appropriateness of a green light on China Mountain Wind given the order in which those finalized documents come down … either way, there is optimism about preventing China Mountain from turning Brown’s Bench, an island of important sage grouse habitat amidst a sea of denuded habitat, into an industrial wasteland for sin city’s wanton consumption …

  2. Craig Avatar

    Have you taken a drive over by Baker City and seen what has happened there? I drive over there every other week and the road is loaded with new Wind Power machines on the beds of semis all the way to Hermiston. Oregon must be really going for the wind power, it’s a non stop flow.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      I took a good hard look at the landscape over there last summer, who knows what it will look like the next?

      I was at “The Gorge” amphitheater watching a Tom Petty concert near George, WA, last summer as well and the higher slopes across the Columbia were littered with turbines, that stand out especially during sunsets. They also line I-90 on the west side of the Gorge a few miles after Vantage all the way up almost to the eastern edge of the Kittitas Valley. They were not yet in use. It’s amazing how fast they can put those things up.

      They are eye sores, but I would willingly accept them into my own backyard if I knew that doing so would prevent them from being placed in areas of greater importance to wildlife

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I would support some of these new technologies if they were accompanied by the removal of dams on many of our rivers. If all this blight on the environment is just to produce more power for more people, then we are just looking at a further degradation of where we live.
    Unless we address the over population of humans on this earth, all of the pro-environment things we do are all doomed to failure. If we all reduce our energy consumption by 50% just to see what we saved being used by additional humans, we have gained nothing.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      I wonder how many turbines it would take to replace the electricity produced by one large hydroelectric dam. I would wager that it’s in the thousands…….

  4. Kayla Avatar

    How much do I personally despise these Wind Projects! I just soooo hope that this project does Not go in. I remember many years ago when birdwatching in Texas, how at the base of all of radio towers and such would be all of these birds who had died by flying into these towers during the night during migrations. And that this company who wants to put this in is foreign to boot and that it will benefit only Las Vegas. Just Freaking Unbelieveable!

  5. Peter Avatar

    In terms of Oregon…

    Fifty controversial turbines coming to the Columbia River Gorge:

    And many more possibly coming to Steens Mountain:

  6. monty Avatar

    Thanks for sharing, it’s the same story being repeated again & again, the belief that we can consume, exhaust & breed our way into a better world.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The trouble is, Brian went up on Brown’s Bench and fell in love.

    I did too a couples years earlier. It has happened to me in other places too. It’s a hazard to those who spend their time outdoors in places free and wild.

    Then, later you end up visiting dying or dead lovers.

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Brian Ertz