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Towering turbines on rural ridge lines could signal the future of energy in Idaho
Idaho Statesman
September 3, 2006
Tim Woodward

BONE — Forty-three wind turbines, each as tall as a 20-story building, rise from the rolling hills around Bone and stretch for nearly six miles. Lending an unexpected, European look to this rural corner of southeast Idaho, they evoke Danish landscapes or postcards from Holland.

Steve Rhodes, whose family has ranched and farmed for four generations on nearby Crippled Couple Ranch, admits that the windmills “took some getting used to.”

“They changed the landscape. But now I think they’re kinda pretty. This is something I’ve dreamed about all my life. The wind blows most of the time out here. I’ve always thought somebody ought to do something about it.”

Somebody is. Compared with the mass of a hydroelectric dam or the stacks of a coal-fired plant, the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm looks benign, almost low-tech. Few would guess that the pale gray turbine blades spinning almost silently in the green hills around Bone provide enough electricity to power 12,000 homes.

Idaho’s largest wind farm could be a harbinger of the state’s energy future. A smaller commercial wind farm, Fossil Gulch, is operating near Hagerman, and a project three times the size of Wolverine Creek is projected to be operating near Albion in 2008. Its turbines would dot ridge lines for 18 miles and provide enough power for 40,000 homes. More than 40 other projects large and small are in various stages of planning.

Modern technology has brought wind power from the realm of weird science to mainstream development. Wind power doesn’t pollute, it contributes jobs and tax dollars to rural economies and, unlike coal or natural gas, it has no fuel costs. Demand among prospective developers is great enough that wind turbines are back-ordered two years. Wind farms along the Snake River Plain could soon be as common as potato fields.

Not everyone likes wind power. Albion residents have signed a petition opposing the Cotterel project, which they say would dominate the landscape. Albion’s Jim Wahlgren, chairman of a committee opposed to Cotterel, adds that wind farms are less effective than other methods of energy production because the wind isn’t always blowing.

“A geothermal plant being built in Cassia County will produce half as much power as Cotterel on only eight acres,” he said.

At the Idaho Division of Energy office in Boise, however, principal energy specialist Gerry Galinato says wind is the renewable energy source with the proven technology most likely to affect Idaho’s energy picture in the near future. He ranks geothermal and biomass (converting biological material such as wood waste into energy) second and third.

‘Green’ technology

“Wind is the renewable technology of today,” said State Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican and co-chairman of a committee working to revise Idaho’s energy plan. “And it’s only going to be a more reliable source as we learn how to capture the energy and release it better. Of all the renewable energies, wind is where our largest supply will come from.”

Wind and other renewable sources meet what appears to be a growing desire among Idahoans for green energy. A public outcry over emissions was a factor in the defeat of Sempra Corp.’s proposed coal-fired plant in the Magic Valley this spring, and wind was the energy source of choice in a 2005 Boise State University study of energy policy issues.

Of 534 adults BSU surveyed statewide, 59 percent chose wind as the most desirable source of power. It was the most popular choice, followed by solar and hydro. Natural gas, coal and oil were rated the least desirable.

Idaho’s wind power potential is significant. A Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development study estimates it at 1,800 megawatts of power – three times the 600 megawatts the Sempra plant would have produced. The state ranks 13th among states in potential wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Its ranking would be higher if not for an abundance of sites aesthetically off limits – no one wants wind turbines dotting the White Clouds, Sawtooths, Craters of the Moon or other iconic vistas.

Two wind-energy companies consider Idaho’s resources promising enough to have moved their headquarters here from other states. One is the Exergy Development Group, which has offices in California and Montana but now operates mainly out of Boise.

“Southern Idaho is one big wind machine,” Exergy President James Carkulis said. “It starts in the west and slides up the western slopes to the northeast with few geographical factors to impede it.”

Exergy has utility contracts for 10 wind farms in Idaho with a total of 138 megawatts of power output. They would nearly triple the 75.4 megawatts now produced in the state, almost all of it at Wolverine Creek and Fossil Gulch.

Helping Rural Idaho

Wind farms are built primarily in rural areas, bringing jobs and tax revenues with them. Windland Inc., which moved its headquarters to Boise in 1993, recently completed a four-year federal approval process for its planned 200-megawatt Cotterel Mountain Wind Farm at Albion. Cotterel would provide significant employment during its construction, according to company spokesman Mike Heckler, and up to 15 permanent maintenance and operations jobs paying $30,000 to $60,000 a year.

“Cotterel will increase tax value in Cassia County by 25 percent and require very little in the way of services,” he said. “We won’t need things like another school or another sheriff’s deputy.”

Wolverine Creek, which straddles two counties, went on line late last year and will pay an estimated $719,700 this year to Bonneville County taxing districts. Bingham County will receive roughly a third as much. Wolverine manager Manny Morrell oversaw up to 200 people during construction.

“We used local companies for timber, excavating, trucking, concrete, electrical and engineering,” Morrell said. “The work fueled business at hotels, restaurants, stores – you name it.”

While providing relatively few maintenance and operations jobs – four at Wolverine Creek – wind can be a source of income for local ranchers and farmers on whose land wind turbines are erected. Depending on the amount of power produced, they typically receive a percentage of profits ranging from $4,000 to $7,000 per year per turbine. The turbines’ effect on crops and livestock is minimal.

“I don’t have any on my land,” said Rhodes, whose farm lies a breath of wind away from Wolverine Creek. “But I wish I did.”

Integrating wind

Idaho Power has contracted to include some 300 megawatts of wind power in its system. Senior Vice President James Miller says that’s “about 10 percent of our load, which is more than just about any utility in the country.”

The company’s new resource plan, completed in late August, envisions an additional 250 megawatts of wind over the next 20 years. Some think the company could be doing more.

“That’s pretty puny,” Idaho Energy Division engineer Gerald Fleischman said. “Over 20 years, that’s not nearly enough. If they get all the wind they’re talking about, it would be one of the biggest percentages of any utility in the U.S. But what that really says is that they all should be doing more.”

>From a utility company’s point of view, wind’s biggest drawback is variability: The wind isn’t always blowing. Utilities need stable power they can dispatch immediately to handle peak loads and emergencies.

“If we plan on a certain amount of wind and don’t get it, hydro has to fill the gap,” Miller said.

As more wind farms come on line over a greater geographical area, variability lessens.

Wind is “a wave that goes across the state,” said Brian Jackson, a partner in the small Lewandowski wind farm between Boise and Mountain Home. “If Fossil Gulch is tapering off, wind farms at American Falls might be producing.”

Dozens of projects are contemplated throughout the southern Idaho wind corridor. The degree of interest from potential developers was so unexpected that Idaho Power asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for a break to allow the company to study the effects of integrating wind power into its system.

The PUC responded last summer with a moratorium on applications for small wind farms. Commissioners will decide whether to lift the moratorium after analyzing Idaho Power’s wind integration study, which is expected late this month.

The PUC’s decision is likely to be seen as a gauge of Idaho’s openness to utilizing wind. Some wind farm developers say Idaho has a less-than-welcoming environment, with the moratorium and a policy – unique in the United States – to penalize wind farms if the power they provide to utilities is less than 90 percent or more than 110 percent of what they contract to supply.

The commission’s intention, spokesman Gene Fadness said, is to protect rate-payers when wind output is less than projected and Idaho Power has to buy more expensive power. But Jackson said the state is “sending a very clear signal that’s onerous to financing wind projects.”

Despite having more wind, Idaho lags far behind Washington and Oregon in developing it. Demand for the power is substantial, however, whether it goes to Idaho consumers or not. (Wolverine Creek’s power is sold to Portland-based PacifiCorp.)

“If we had the transmission lines, California wouldn’t hesitate to buy all our wind power,” Fleischman said. “If Idaho Power doesn’t want what’s right here in our backyard, fine. Sell it to California.”

Exergy’s Carkulis believes the climate for developing Idaho’s wind resources is “warming up. Wind has become mainstream. It has a pedigree. … The dialogue should be whether we invest inside or outside the state.”

Jackson adds that wind promises the region the same opportunity hydro once

“It’s not a solution, but it’s a stabilizing force in the overall energy
picture,” he said.”

Worries about wind

Not even its most avid proponents say wind energy is perfect. Getting power from wind farms to utility grids in most cases poses a formidable economic challenge. Developers are responsible for building transmission lines, a costly procedure in a business with relatively low profit margins and high risk factors.

Early wind farms in California were bird Cuisinarts, their small, rapidly turning blades killing thousands of birds. Albion residents have expressed concern over the Cotterel project’s potential impact on raptors and endangered sage grouse. In response, Heckler said, Windland spent more than three years tracking the birds with radio monitors and paying people to observe sage-grouse and raptor movements.

“The bottom line is that we sited the turbines around the bird-use areas.”

Turbines have changed over time to lessen threats to birds. Latticed towers that birds use for nesting are giving way to tubular pillars. Rotors are larger and spin more slowly, making them easier for birds to see and avoid.

Some people, like Wahlgren in Albion, object to wind turbines on aesthetic grounds. He contends that they’d dominate the local landscape.

“They should be in isolated areas, not near any town,” Wahlgren said.

Others, like the farmer who lives in their shadow at Bone, think of them as pretty or even majestic.

“Wind is clean energy, and that’s something we all want,” Rhodes said. “I live by a wind farm, and I think they’re a good thing. If I had a choice of things to leave my kids and grandkids, it would be the turbines. The income would help them stay on the farm. I’d a whole lot rather have that than what’s out at the INL. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

NRC postpones weapons nuke waste meeting
August 30, 2006
By Ben Lando

U.S. nuclear regulators have postponed a Thursday meeting with the U.S. Energy Department in an ongoing dispute over the disposal of nuclear weapons waste.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the Energy Department Wednesday that it would delay Thursday’s meeting because it didn’t meet the required 10-day public notification of open meetings.

The sit-down was requested by the Energy Department to air and resolve complaints it has over the NRC’s proposed guidelines for how to dispose of a portion of nuclear waste from U.S. nuclear weapons manufacturing, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

At issue is how much oversight the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year 2005 gave the NRC over the Energy Department’s plans to determine whether the waste at two facilities is high- or low-level radioactive byproduct.

The Energy Department wants the negotiations to be private, but NRC Chairman Dale Klein has said it should now be in the sphere of public debate because Energy Department complaints were made part of the pubic comment of NRC’s proposed Standard Review Plan, instead of internally.

The Standard Review Plan is the NRC’s proposed guidelines for “consultation and monitoring” of the Energy Department’s disposal plan, McIntyre wrote in an e-mail to United Press International.

A new meeting date has not been set.

Fort Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel
Posted on Wed, Aug. 30, 2006
Associated Press

Owner says no huge bomb test at southern Indiana quarry

MITCHELL, Ind. – A southern Indiana limestone quarry will not be used by the U.S. military as the testing site for a powerful new bomb intended to penetrate solid rock formations, a congressman and the site’s owner said.

Rogers Group’s Mitchell Quarry about 30 miles south of Bloomington had been mentioned as a possible site for a test, named “Divine Strake,” that involves detonating 700 tons of explosives.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has declined to say whether the site was under consideration for the test, but Greg Gould, a vice president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Rogers Group, said no immense military bomb blasts would take place there.

“We do not intend to have any blast beyond what we typically have for our mining operations,” Gould said. “Rogers Group has not been in contact with the DTRA about Divine Strake, and we do not expect to be.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said Tuesday he had been told by the agency that the Divine Strake test would not be conducted in Indiana.

The test had at first been planned for June at the Nevada Test Site as part of an effort to design a weapon that can destroy bunkers in which a country might store nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

Environmentalists and some residents had objected to moving the Divine Strake test to southern Indiana. The military has confirmed testing up to 1.5 tons of explosives at the Mitchell Quarry in detonations between July 2004 and March 2005.

Mitchell Mayor Morris Chastain said he was relieved by word that the quarry would not be the large bomb test site.

‘Science complex’ raises funding, compliance questions
Los Alamos Monitor
June 23, 2006

Los Alamos National Laboratory is turning to the U.S. Postal Service for help in arranging third-party financing for a planned new science complex on Two-Mile Mesa, near the main administrative area.

According to an official planning document, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Nuke Watch New Mexico, the laboratory signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USPS in February 2004 to assist in the project.

In its announcement, Nuke Watch charged that the funding scheme was a “back-door” gimmick that sidestepped the congressional appropriation process for a major project.

“There has never been any kind of attempt to hide any part of this complex idea,” laboratory spokesperson Kevin Roark said Thursday. “We’ve been talking about this lease-back idea for a long time.”

Roark contradicted the FY06 Ten-Year Site Plan on one point. “The most current information I have is that the MOU has not been signed,” he said. “We’re still in negotiations with the post office.”

A story in the Monitor from June 2004 reported plans to build the 400,000-square-foot complex to house some 1,300 scientists and other
employees, “using a novel third-party financing initiative.”

The involvement of the postal service, not specified at the time, is considered a straightforward matter from the lab’s perspective.

“The post office happens to be an expert in third party financing. They do this all the time,” Roark said.

Nuke Watch raised another question about the project’s compliance with the federal requirements for environmental impact assessments, saying the group could find no indication that the project has been properly analyzed.

“The lab needs to be constantly reminded of its legal obligations to follow the letter and spirit of the National Environmental Protection Act,” said Coghlan, director of the public interest organization based in Santa Fe.

Nuke Watch New Mexico has been particularly watchful about the environmental impacts of new buildings at the laboratory. A California federal suit in which they participated against a plan to operate Biosafety laboratories at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National laboratories, caused significant delays at both sites.

The Los Alamos BSL-3 remains unoccupied after more than two years, because of the litigation and NNSA’s subsequent decision that a separate environmental impact analysis was needed.

In response to Nuke Watch’s objection about an environmental process for the science complex, Roark corrected an error reported earlier, that the project had been included in a “2004 Site-wide environmental impact statement.”

Asked again Thursday about the matter, he said it would be included in a forthcoming 2006 site-wide impact statement.

Last year, under pressure from local environmental groups, the federal managers of the laboratory changed direction on a required environmental review and decided to prepare a new site-wide environmental statement, rather than a supplement, as they proposed at first.

The last SWEIS was issued in January 1999.

The lab is currently processing the new site-wide environmental impact review. A draft assessment is expected to be released in the near future.

In the LANL site plan, one classified building and one unclassified building were envisioned for the Los Alamos Science Complex along with ample parking.

The buildings were to provide workspace for radiological facilities, bioscience, the theoretical division, earth and environmental sciences, the institute for geophysics and planetary physics, the center for non-linear studies, and other piece of the directorate, according to information provided at that time.

The buildings projected in the site plan last September were intended for occupation by the former Strategic Science division, but under
reorganization by the new management, Los Alamos National Security LLC, the organization has been recast with slightly different components as the principal directorate of Science, Technology and Engineering.

Coghlan said Nuke Watch has been trying to obtain the two most recent versions of the laboratory’s ten-year plan through FOIA since December 23, 2004.

The documents received were marked “Official Use Only” and “May be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act,” as “privileged information.”

“We got a 40 percent redacted version in November 2005,” he said. “We subsequently filed an appeal to the DOE office of hearings and appeals.”

That appeal was ruled non-existent.

“In a twist,” Coghlan said, “rather than denying it, they said your appeal doesn’t exist because the Albuquerque office gave you what they thought you wanted.”

Nuke Watch then began litigation to obtain the material, and NNSA released unredacted versions on June 19.

Cold War Relic in Pieces, but Next Generation Looms
Washington Post
June 29, 2006
By Walter Pincus

The Bush administration is expected to announce today that it has dismantled the last of the most powerful nuclear missile warheads left over from the Cold War.

At the same time, however, a Senate subcommittee has added $10 million to next year’s budget to fund a design competition for the second warhead in a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has increased by 50 percent the rate at which it is dismantling older weapons in the nuclear stockpile, which has about 5,000 weapons.

But Congress and the administration are pressing ahead with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, which will guarantee production in the next decade of fewer but more reliable and secure nuclear warheads and bombs.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said yesterday that his Appropriations subcommittee had added $35 million to the fiscal 2007 budget “to accelerate the RRW design activities, including $10 million to initiate a second RRW design competition.”

The panel’s draft report says the second RRW design is proposed “to ensure that our strategic forces have at least two different certified RRW warheads” as a hedge against failure in any one system.

The nation’s two nuclear weapons design centers, the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, are competing to design the first RRW. The nuclear security agency is scheduled to make a choice late this year. A second RRW design competition may provide an opportunity to the losing lab.

The warhead at the center of today’s announcement, the W-56, was put into operation in 1963 atop the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It had the explosive power of 1.2 megatons or “roughly 100 times greater” than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Thomas B. Cochran, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear program.

The W-56 was retired in 1991, when the last Minuteman II ICBMs were taken out of their silos during the George H.W. Bush administration. However, it was not until 1999 that the government started dismantling the first W-56, a slow and precise process because of aging parts and nuclear materials, according to NNSA Deputy Administrator Thomas P. D’Agostino.

“It takes anywhere from a few weeks to a month for each warhead if there are no problems,” D’Agostino said. He noted that “they are difficult to take apart because they were not designed to be dismantled.”

At the peak, about 1,000 W-56 warheads existed. In 1986, when the warhead was more than 20 years old, a partial test was conducted and it was found to be still reliable.

D’Agostino said NNSA is planning to put more emphasis on dismantling retired nuclear weapons, a process that in the past decade has provided a steady amount of work for the Pantex facility outside Amarillo, Tex., where weapons are assembled and disassembled. Up to now, the programs to refurbish operational warheads have used up almost all the operating space at the facility. But with that program declining, dismantling of retired weapons can increase.

In another step related to reduction of operational weapons, the subcommittee cut $82 million from the budget because the Defense Department has decided that it will not continue a program that would have extended the life of W-80 nuclear warheads carried by several hundred submarine- and air-launched cruise missiles.