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.

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