Idaho Renewable Energy Projects Gain Momentum
It’s been a long time coming, but after a frustrating series of delays and false starts, renewable energy projects in Idaho are signing contracts with the state’s electric utilities – and several of those projects are currently awaiting expected approval by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
From overdue wind projects in southern Idaho to solar farms in Elmore and Jerome counties and anaerobic digesters at three Magic Valley dairies, Idaho is poised to more than double the admittedly modest amount of non-hydro renewable energy that will be purchased by its utilities. The wind projects being built in the Magic Valley alone will more than double the current 146 megawatts of wind generation. And Idaho Power is asking the PUC to approve what would be the state’s first utility-scale solar project, with another one expected to follow.
There’s no question Idaho has lagged for years behind its neighbors in bringing new renewables online, partly because it is one of just two western states that do not require their electric utilities to acquire a minimum amount of their overall electric generation from renewables. Even when these new projects are up and running, we’ll have a long way to go in catching up to the renewables trends embraced elsewhere, but momentum appears to be growing. Here’s a look at some of the new projects:
GE Energy Financial Services recently purchased a majority interest in a $500 million complex of 11 wind projects developed by Montana-based Exergy Development Group, clearing the way for construction of the wind farms that were approved by the PUC for sale to Idaho Power back in 2005.
The infusion of GE cash and its acquisition of Idaho Wind Partners mean turbines will soon rise above the Snake River in the Bell Rapids area near Hagerman, as well as near Burley in Cassia County.
“Through our investment in Idaho’s largest wind power portfolio, GE Energy Financial Services is putting millions of dollars to work to bring jobs and clean energy to Idaho and help the country meet growing demand for domestic, renewable sources of energy,” Kevin Walsh, managing director and head of Power and Renewable Energy for the company, said in a news release.
GE will deploy 122 of its 1.5 megawatt turbines that will have a total generation capacity of 183MW. which compares to the 147MW of wind power currently providing electricity to Idaho utilities from four wind farms. Depending on the time of year and wind production, this new generation is enough to power nearly 40,000 average Idaho homes.
The projects are scheduled to be completed later this year and early 2011. They are under 20-year contracts to provide electricity to Idaho Power.
And for the first time, an Idaho electric utility has asked the PUC to approve a contract with a solar farm. The PUC is reviewing the 20-year contract with Grand View Solar PV One, which is developing a 20MW solar farm on 180 acres about 16 miles west of Mountain Home. As with wind farms, the solar facility won’t generate that much power, but will deliver about 10 average megawatts to Idaho Power. The project is expected to be completed by next January.
Another large solar farm has recently secured a conditional use permit from the Jerome County Planning and Zoning Commission. According to Jerome P&Z meeting minutes, the project would be built on farmland owned by Steve and Mary Marshall, founders along with outgoing Twin Falls County Commissioner Tom Mikesell of newly formed Mid Point Energy. It is also located near Idaho Power’s large Midpoint substation, which will reduce the need for expensive transmission lines.
Testimony presented at the meeting projected the project will generate 75 to 300 jobs during construction and five to seven permanent jobs. It would sit on about 400 acres and consist of an estimated 150,000 solar panels, according to the Twin Falls Times-News. Its estimated 75MW of generation is about enough to power 45,000 homes. Idaho Power is the likely purchaser of the new green energy, but because it is new to large-scale solar, the company says it will need to work with the developer to explore possible issues in integrating the solar power to the utility’s system.
Also in the Magic Valley, the Idaho PUC has approved contracts between Idaho Power and three anaerobic digester projects being developed by Middleton-based New Energy One. The projects include the 4MW Rock Creek Dairy project near Filer, the 2MW Swager Farms project near Buhl, and the 2MW Double B Dairy project near Murtaugh. The three plants process organic wastes such as livestock waste into a gas, which is then converted into electricity. The waste at these facilities is primarily from livestock. Idaho Power currently buys power generated at another Magic Valley dairy.
Those interested in reviewing the contracts and other documents in these cases can find them at the PUC’s website at www.puc.idaho.gov and then clicking “File Room” and then “Electric Cases.”