Wind power takes off in IdahoOctober 8, 2009
Idaho is a good place for wind power, but traditionally, we have sent our wind power out of state. In September, however, a huge but largely unnoticed change took place: Rocky Mountain Power and Avista told their regulators they were going to purchase about 1,650 megawatts of wind power over twenty years, thereby making wind power an increasingly important part of their portfolios. A megawatt will power about 800 homes.
The information is in the “Integrated Resource Plans,” which utilities are required to file every two years with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. In the IRP, the utility explains how it will continue to service customers and accommodate growth and other changes. For wind producers, the numbers are encouraging: PacifiCorp (parent company of Rocky Mountain Power) plans to add more than 1,300 megawatts of wind power in the next 10 years, a substantial portion of which will be used to serve the company’s electric consumers in Idaho. Avista, 350 megawatts over the next twenty years, a substantial portion of which will serve its Idaho customers; Idaho Power, will file its IRP later this year. Idaho Power is expected to announce that a significant portion of its future resource needs will come from wind power.
This is a big change in just a few months. Earlier this year, wind developers said one of the biggest obstacles to Idaho wind development was the lack of demand from Idaho utilities. Clearly, that is no longer the case.
I should disclose I am a senior advisor to Exergy, a wind developer, and I am Director of Avista Corporation and Chair of the Board of Director’s Energy, Environmental and Operations Committee. Needless to say, as someone who works with the private sector to facilitate clean energy, I am very pleased to see Idaho’s utilities make a serious financial commitment to in-state renewables. Idaho Power has even agreed to purchase more than 2 mw from a Jerome dairy digester.
This table from the Idaho Department of Energy Resources shows how much is really going on in Idaho. There are 174 wind projects proposed and 75 of them are in areas with wind classes of 4, 5, 6 or 7, which allow utility-scale development (the other 99 are in Class 3 areas; these are typically independent projects to power a farm or other property).
These 75 projects, mostly in southern Idaho, would eventually generate more than 10,400 mw. To put that in perspective, Idaho has about 2,000 mw of in-state power production including hydro, natural gas, wind, solar and geothermal. Of these 75 projects, 13 of them are by Boise-based Exergy, representing 228 mw.
While this news is important, we should keep in mind that wind is intermittent and produces power about a quarter of the time, so natural gas will be needed to back up the wind. Also, additional transmission will be crucial to the success of these projects. The proposed Gateway transmission project, a joint project with Idaho Power Co., will transport energy from eastern Wyoming, through southern Idaho (Gateway West) and through Utah (Gateway South).
What is driving the change of heart among Idaho utilities? I believe it is due to a desire to diversify their energy base with a major significant focus on renewable energy. Idaho Power gets half its power from coal, but coal is facing increasing regulations, cap-and-trade and carbon taxes. Snow packs fluctuate and natural gas prices are very volatile. Utilities are also betting the Gateway transmission projects will be completed, facilitating the movement of energy from new wind projects. Utilities are obligated to look to the future and anticipate these trends; wind is another basket into which they can put their eggs.