In July 2007, I wrote a letter to this newspaper about a crop that could make Idaho a wealthy state and that didn’t need water. That crop was clean energy: geothermal, wind, solar, bio-digesting and biomass. I mentioned at the time that Idaho has a tremendous natural abundance of this crop but a lack of political will to encourage development of this crop through state policy and incentives. Where state policy has encouraged development, investment money has followed. Idahoans might be interested to learn what has happened since 2007. Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings invested $2 billion in solar projects in 2011, but none in Idaho. Google invested $1 billion in solar projects in 2011, but none in Idaho. In 2006, $100 billion was invested globally in clean energy. Investment increased to $246 billion in 2011 for solar and wind installations and bio-fuels alone.
Has Idaho benefitted from this global trend? The American Wind Energy Association tracks wind energy project installations and as of the end of 2011, AWEA noted that Idaho added 471 megawatts of wind power production in 2010 and 2011, increasing annual property tax payments to Idaho counties by $2.3 million each year and with annual land lease payments going to Idaho landowners of almost $2 million. That sounds pretty good until you look at our neighbors. As of end of 2011, Washington State had 2,573 MW of installed wind, Oregon had 2,513 MW, Wyoming has 1,412 MW and California 3,927 MW. An estimated 2,000 jobs have been created in Washington and up to 3,000 estimated in Oregon. Annual property tax payments by wind projects in Oregon are more than $14 million each year, $13.5 in Washington. Author Paul Herman notes that “jobs in the positive impact subsectors of the U.S. economy have grown by 21 percent (in the past decade) while total private industry jobs (less impact sector) have fallen by 3.7 percent.”
As Idaho Power runs an anti-wind power campaign (maybe financed with ratepayers’ money?), it is also spending half a billion dollars in coal plant upgrades to be able to continue to use these plants. As the newest natural gas-fired plant to come online will cost ratepayers $13 per MW hour, Idaho Power tells us in their IRP, while wind power costs ratepayers half of that.
There has been amazing technology developed since 2007 to help utilities deal with the intermittency and forecasting of wind. Now wind can be closely predicted as to when it will be generating power and other generation sources can be ramped up and down to take advantage of least cost and cleanest generation. The smart meters that Idaho Power has installed across its service territory in Idaho can be much more fully utilized to incorporate more renewable generation. As Idaho is constrained in power production today and constrained in transmission for more out-of-state power purchase, the possibility of blackouts and brownouts is very real. Idahoans deserve better vision from Idaho Power than an anti-wind campaign.
Kiki Tidwell is a resident of Hailey.