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It’s been four years since the state updated its Idaho Energy Plan, but that may change as the Idaho Office of Energy Resources’ Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance (ISEA) prepares to freshen our state energy plan. Don’t expect a deep dive into such dicey energy policy matters like solar power, nuclear power, electric vehicles, climate change, or other things the Idaho Legislature prefers to avoid, because there are no plans for any in-depth examination of important energy issues facing the state. Instead, look more for updates on state energy statistics and other data. In any case, the fact that state lawmakers and our utilities are about to rewrite Idaho’s energy policy is worth paying attention to.

The state’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) and its Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance (ISEA) will meet from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 8 in Idaho Falls, a day before the two-day Intermountain Energy Summit, also in Idaho Falls. Here is the agenda for the meeting in Idaho Falls.

The Idaho Energy Plan process has veered a bit off the tracks since the initial plan was created through an exhaustive process in 2007. Development of the initial 2007 plan was guided by a respected independent energy consultant and was well received by the Legislature as Idaho’s first state energy plan in more than 25 years. But things went sideways in 2011-2012, when the Legislature opted to save money and instead assigned the every-five-year Idaho Energy Plan update to OER and its ISEA, which at the time was dominated by Idaho’s regulated gas, electric, and other utilities. The utility-approved 2012 Idaho Energy Plan that resulted was broadly panned as weak and lacking vision, ignoring the largest energy challenge facing Idaho and the nation – climate change. It also stripped from the earlier state energy plan mandates or directions to guide Idaho’s energy strategy going forward. Even lawmakers who were deeply involved in the process acknowledged it was poorly handled, even though it is now Idaho’s official energy plan.

Fast-forward to 2016, as the Legislature considers its self-imposed task of updating our energy policy. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to even address the need to update the energy plan during their 2016 session. They didn’t assign OER or anyone else the task of updating what is now a sorely outdated energy document. Until just recently and through an informal exchange of emails, that is. And now OER and its ISEA Board of Directors will take it up Aug. 8 in Idaho Falls.

 

Here’s the Snake River Alliance’s latest good-news progress report on its “Solarize the Valley” campaign to boost rooftop solar power installations in the Treasure Valley:

DSC_3294Interest in Solar Power Surges as 345 Treasure Valley Homes & Businesses Sign Up to ‘Solarize the Valley’ 

BOISE – (July 12, 2016) – More than 345 Treasure Valley households and businesses have signed up for free solar power site assessments through the Solarize the Valley.org partnership between the Snake River Alliance and its solar-installation partners – far eclipsing the original target of 250 potential solar customers and showing a remarkable demand for new solar power choices for Idaho Power customers in Ada and Canyon counties. 

The Snake River Alliance unveiled its groundbreaking Solarize the Valley campaign in May, offering residential and business customers free solar power site assessments and best-available solar installation deals with the Alliance’s two private solar installer partners, AltEnergy Inc. and Site Based Energy, both of which are offering super-competitive prices for high quality, American-made solar panels. The Alliance and its solar business partners are helping Idaho Power customers shed more than 250 kilowatts of mostly dirty, climate-changing, coal-powered electricity while slashing power bills and generating their own electricity. With the program just beginning to gain momentum as customers receive their free solar power assessments, seven Idaho Power customers have already signed contracts for new solar installations and Solarize the Valley is on track to meeting its ambitious goal for new solar power additions on Idaho Power’s system. Solarize has so far installed two new rooftop solar systems.

“The number of people wanting to make the move to solar is amazing, and we and our installers are processing inquiries as quickly as possible,” Alliance Interim Executive Director Wendy Wilson said. “Solarize the Valley is already meeting our expectations and more as we push to install hundreds of kilowatts of new clean solar power on rooftops across southwest Idaho.” More than 150 utility customers have packed four Alliance-sponsored Solarize the Valley informational workshops, and dozens more have signed up for their free solar power assessments via the Solarize the Valley website. 

Interested homeowners and business owners in Ada and Canyon can still learn more and sign up for Solarize the Valley by going to www.solarizethevalley.org for a free assessment from a professional installer. The sign-up phase of the campaign runs through July 31, 2016.

Solarize the Valley is modeled after similar successful programs across the country, starting in Portland, Oregon. Over the past several years, many Solarize programs have operated in the Northwest and across the nation.

The Snake River Alliance is a nonprofit, charitable organization that has worked for 37 years for responsible handling of nuclear waste and a future for Idaho powered by clean energy. The group has offices in Boise and Pocatello. Volunteers and new community supporters can help by contacting solarize@snakeriveralliance.org.

Additional community supporters include Idaho Smart Growth, the Idaho U.S. Green Building Council, the Sierra Club, Idaho Conservation League, North End Organic Nursery, Payette Brewing Co., Wheeler Homes, Fresca, Hilton Garden Inn Eagle, the Boise Consumer Co-op, Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery, and League of Women Voters.

And if that news isn’t enough to pump you up on things solar, prepare yourself for a few more fun Solarize events in the coming weeks:

  • Join us July 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for a Solar Block Party at 1820 N. 7th between Eastman and Brumback and see what solar energy did for Anne and Alan Hausrath and their solar-powered Hausrath Haus! The Hausraths are longtime Alliance members and heroes in Idaho’s environmental community. “We want to continue to fun of the parties that have been happening up and down 7th and 8th Streets and we want to give people a chance to learn about “Solarize the Valley,” the Hausraths said. Five-bean salad, chips, and lemonade will be provided of course, but as always we appreciate it if you can bring another dish to share. “Friends and family are welcome! You don’t have to be a North Ender. Party happens rain or shine!”
  • And again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on July 27 for the “Clean Energy Party – Own Your Own Power!” event at 4929 E Sagewood Drive in Harris Ranch. Check out the first Solarize the Valley installation! Our host Lisa Hecht will show you how easy it is to go solar. Refreshments will be provided.

Solarize the Valley is a groundbreaking program in which Idaho Power customers in Ada and Canyon Counties can combine with solar installers selected by the Snake River Alliance to

make it easier and cheaper than ever to install solar panels on their rooftops and slash their monthly power bills. Understanding that shopping for and installing solar panels on your rooftop can be an intimidating experience, Solarize the Valley helps navigate the process by doing much of the consumers’ homework, including negotiating competitive prices for high quality, American-made solar panels.

Site Based Energy, a Hailey-based firm, is working with commercial participants in the program. Residential customers are working with AltEnergy, a company that works in a number of states. Both companies are also participating another Solarize program, “Solarize Blaine,” aimed at helping Wood River Valley homes and businesses make the jump to solar. Combined, Idaho’s two new Solarize programs are showing our utility customers are fired up about wanting Idaho Power to plug into the sun.

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Your Action is Needed! The Department of Energy has an open Invitation for Public Comment on the future of “consent-based nuclear waste siting”.  Email comments will be accepted until July 31st.

In your email, please explain to the agency what type of public process would make you more likely to “consent” to having the nuclear industry send spent fuel to Idaho for long-term “interim consolidation”. Please include your specific personal comments, concerns or just explain how you feel about nuclear waste! Let them know that Idaho is a NON-consent state and always will be.

email: consentbasedsiting@hq.doe.gov, using the subject line “Response to IPC” by July 31st, 2016. Include your name, address, phone number, and email address. Please attempt to answer these questions: 1) How can DOE make this “consent-based” process fair? 2) What models or experiences should DOE use in process design? 3) Who should be involved in the process? And 4) What information or resources do you need to be involved in the process? Additional comments should be included at the end of your response as “Additional Comments.”

On Thursday evening, July 14, the Department of Energy (DOE) is coming to Boise to ask Idahoans what we think of a new process for siting nuclear waste facilities. After the agency spent decades trying to force nuclear waste on unwilling Nevadans, the DOE has a “new” approach . . . asking permission.

The DOE has posed a number of questions and failed to mention others. We’ll consider many of them in the weeks before the meeting. For those of us in Idaho, the first question is –

What’s at Stake in “Consent-Based” Nuclear Siting?

Idaho has been targeted for nuclear waste almost since the Idaho National Laboratory was founded in 1949. We’ve had to accept massive amounts of plutonium-contaminated waste from a nuclear weapons plant in Colorado and spent nuclear fuel from all over, including foreign reactors, the nuclear Navy, and commercial reactors. Even the melted core from the Three Mile Island disaster was sent to INL. The waste sent here has polluted Idaho’s air, land, and water.

Now the DOE is once again trying to move nuclear waste – no doubt to the West. The federal government does not expect to have a permanent geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel for at least 30 years. In the meantime, there is political pressure to consolidate spent fuel away from shutdown reactors as early as five years from now.

Non-consent is as important as consent

Idaho public officials and private individuals and groups (including the Snake River Alliance) have resisted waste importation for decades. In 1995, the State of Idaho and federal government agreed that, though INL can still accept spent fuel from the nuclear Navy and very small amounts from foreign reactors, most of the nuclear waste in the United States will never come here. The ban, ratified by the voters in 1996, explicitly covers commercial spent nuclear fuel, a large, growing, and intensely radioactive waste stream.

The DOE wants to find communities that say YES to that waste stream. One of its key concerns is making sure a YES is ironclad and a consenting community can’t change its mind. But apparently the agency wants to see if Idaho will change its mind.

So, we have to ask: Why can’t the DOE hear NO? Idaho’s non-consent is fierce and longstanding. Yet the DOE and its contractor at INL keep testing our resolve. No means no. The DOE should stop looking to change Idaho’s existing “non-consent” status.

“Interim” consolidated storage can become permanent

The new approach to solving the nuclear waste problem delays a permanent repository for commercial spent nuclear fuel until 2048. In the meantime, at least one pilot “interim” consolidated storage facility and at least one larger “temporary” dump would be built. Though the DOE has tried to set opening times for the new temporary facilities, it hasn’t even taken a stab at when they might close. Further, the size of the proposed facilities is murky, partly because the pile of waste is growing by the day.

In other words, the DOE wants communities to “consent” to storing an unspecified amount of nuclear waste for an unknown period of time.

Here’s what Idahoans have learned from 65 years of INL history. What comes here stays here. The nuclear Navy has moved every scrap of its spent fuel just one time – from a nuclear shipyard to the INL’s Naval Reactors Facility. Consolidating that entire waste stream above our drinking water has made it no more likely it will move on to a permanent geologic disposal site, particularly if the DOE and nuclear Navy break the promises they made in the 1995 Settlement Agreement.

Moving the problem doesn’t solve it

Nuclear waste should be stored as safely as possible as close to its point of generation as possible. In 2010 the Alliance affirmed that position and joined public interest groups from all fifty states when we signed “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors.” Consolidating commercial spent nuclear fuel on an “interim” basis won’t limit environmental risks. But it may well limit the government’s and utilities’ public relations problems. Right now commercial spent fuel is stored at the reactors where it’s generated, predominantly east of the Mississippi, near major cities, and along the West Coast. In other words, it’s stored in areas with a lot more political power than places “in the middle of nowhere” that are habitually considered for nuclear dumps. Places like Idaho. And once nuclear utilities’ public relations problems are solved, the drive for a nuclear waste solution will wane.

Let’s tell ’em

Idahoans need to get involved. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about nuclear waste. It is too easy for sparsely populated places in the West to become nuclear waste dumps. We learned how to say NO. Now the DOE wants to talk about nuclear waste again. Speak up and say what we’ve learned. Register to participate in person or online by clicking here.

 

The Department of Energy should not be in charge of the spent fuel and high-level waste programs any longer.

  • The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended a new agency be formed.

The framework for America’s nuclear waste management program should be fully developed and have the force of law.

  • Only then should the government seek consent from a community to host a nuclear waste storage facility.

Nuclear waste is very dangerous and should be stored as safely as possible.

  • The safest location is as close to its point of generation as possible because transportation is risky.

Spent nuclear fuel should not be consolidated at an “interim” storage site.

  • To minimize risk and cost, spent fuel should be moved only once and to a location that is designed for permanent disposal.

Idaho is a NON-CONSENT STATE.

  • Idahoans have already decided they don’t want to receive commercial spent nuclear fuel and the government should respect that decision.

Consent must be free, prior, and informed.

  • Informed consent is currently not possible. The government has not provided enough information including how much spent fuel it intends to store or for how long it will be stored in any given place.

It’s not clear whose consent will “count.”

  • Transportation and storage of dangerous nuclear waste has local, regional and national impacts that must be considered and can’t be circumvented by one community.

Do not forget to sign up to attend the Department of Energy’s consent-based process for siting nuclear waste meeting, Thursday July 14th 5-9:30 p.m.! Come remind the Department of Energy that Idaho says NO! to nuclear waste.