Energy: New Idaho developments

by Judy Ferro

The elections have demanded so much attention lately, that a lot of issues may not be getting the attention they deserve lately.

So what’s new with Idaho energy developments? There’s bad news. And good news. And good news. And some mostly good news.

The bad news is that the state recently auctioned off mineral rights on 968 acres in Canyon County, 1282 in Payette, 211 in Gem, and 53 in Washington. Now you may own the mineral rights on your property—few of us do—but thanks to a 2016 bill supported by all legislators in districts 7 to 13 that doesn’t mean anything if owners of 55% of the property involved (e.g. the recent purchasers) support drilling.

The good news is that nations of the world just came up with a plan that should cut ½ degree Celsius from the predicted temperature in 2100. A phased-in reduction of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) will start in 2019. These are the gases that replaced Freon in the late 1980s and allowed the ozone hole over Antarctica to heal. Unfortunately, they emit greenhouse gases, as much as 300 coal-fired plants currently, and much more if people in developing countries gain access to refrigeration and air conditioning.

Fortunately, a half-dozen alternative gases are available; ironically, one of them is carbon dioxide.

More good news–Idaho may soon have more of its power needs met by solar power than any other state in the union. That’s amazing since Idaho’s low-cost hydroelectric power delayed interest here in solar power. That was particularly true when surplus production required expensive battery storage; now, under government requirements, solar power is integrated into Idaho Power’s existing power grid. Eight commercial entities have permits to go on line this year. The two largest projects are already operating.

In August 360 acres of photovoltaic panels–174,800 total—went on-line south of Boise. Idaho Solar I project—the first utility-scale solar project in Idaho—can generate 40 megawatts of energy.

In October, Idaho Solar II went on-line about 15 miles south of Grandview. It is twice the size of Solar I and will generate 80 megawatts, enough to power nearly 15,000 Idaho homes.

Each was years in the planning and permit stage, but were installed in a matter of months. The massive numbers of panels required have helped bring the cost of producing solar panels down. They require, however, about seven acres of land for each megawatt of production.

The mostly good news—The Idaho National Laboratory may soon be first-in-the-world for another nuclear development. An Oregon company, NuScale Power, has designed a small, nuclear module with few moving parts that can be factory-manufactured. Each Small Modular Reactor (SMR) produces about 5% of the power of a full-size nuclear plant, but modules can be combined.

A seven-state consortium of city power plants is proposing to build a 600-megawatt plant in Idaho that could be operational by 2024.

Nuclear power understandably makes many nervous—mishaps have terrible and long-lasting consequences. Still, as a nation, we are still using power from plants with aging parts and out-of-date technology. News of a new, safer, and less expensive unit is promising.

It’s fortunate that, while many Idaho politicians deny the dangers of global warming, some of our hard-working entrepreneurs ignore them. May we all do our part to keep our planet livable.

Global Warming: Idaho’s PUC and Wildfires

by Judy Ferro

             I wasn’t going to write about forest fires this week.  I was thinking of writing about the education bill before Congress or recent polls on parties and issue. 

               Then I saw that Idaho’s Public Utilities Commission had granted Idaho Power’s request to drop requirements for long-term contracts with producers of renewable energy.

                I’m shrieking.  The West is on fire.  Shell is drilling in the Arctic. Methane is seeping from under melting polar ice.  And Big Oil is threatening –conspiring?  planning?– to move Canadian tar sands oil through old, existing pipelines if  a new one isn’t approved.  
                So the IPUC decides it’s time to strangle private funding for solar power?  
                Apparently, the Commission agreed that Idaho Power’s customers might end up paying too much under 20-year contracts if the price of energy goes DOWN.
                Fat chance.   
                The Commission could have limited contracts to 10 or 12 years.  They could have called for adjustments if the price of power actually did decrease.  .    
                Instead, they limited the length of contracts to TWO YEARS.
                Do you think investors are willing to loan money knowing that payments of a 20-year-loan are guaranteed for only the first two years?  
                I don’t understand why Idaho Power—which gets some power from coal-fired plants—isn’t ecstatic to purchase solar power.  If I ran IP, I’d be offering rebates to every homeowner willing to let the company install solar panels on their roofs.  We would be offering financing on electric cars and selling California companies megawatts by the millions. 
                Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of acres in Washington, California, Montana, Oregon, and Idaho are burning.  Washington’s fires alone—declared an “unprecedented cataclysm”—have stricken 11 counties and four Indian reservations.
                Because of our reliance on fossil fuels.
                A new study co-authored by University of Idaho associate professor John Abatzoglou concludes that man-caused Global Warming is a factor in drought and fires.  Although the lack of rain in California may be a natural occurrence, other factors–temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, and humidity—contribute to the seriousness of droughts.  The study indicates that human activity is responsible for 8 to 27% of these factors, amplifying both the frequency and severity of the damage.  
                A recent Idaho Statesman column by Alyson R. Martin of Boise’s Climate Reality stated that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air barely changed from the advent of use of fossil fuels until 2012, but increased from 296 ppm to 401 ppm between 2012 and 2015.  She fears that this is enough to trigger the release of methane—25 times more damaging that CO2—from the permafrost in arctic regions.
                A secondary lesson from these fires is, as Derek Farr of Better Idaho puts it, “the Sagebrush Rebellion has gone up in smoke.”  Those for Idaho taking control of its Federal lands claim that Idaho can manage land better than the Feds and bring firefighting costs down.  Yet, Farr’s data indicate that Federal lands made up less than 10% of acres burned the first week of the Clearwater Complex; the remainder was state, tribal, or private lands.  
                So, as Gov. Otter has stated, if Idaho owned more of the land, we would be taking money from schools and roads to pay for fire fighting,  Farr goes farther by stating that, when more cuts weren’t possible, Idaho would sell our forests.  “That’s not a bug of the land grabbers’ misguided policies.  It’s a feature.”
                There is every indication that we’ll see more frequent and worse wildfires in coming years.  This is not the time to discourage private investment in solar and wind energy.