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Economic and dam related articles

Wind, Solar Generation
not Answer to Our Energy Need

by Blaine Graff
Reader's View, The Idaho Statesman, October 10, 2001

Blaine Graff A recent Reader's View (Sept. 11) proposed the use of wind or solar power to meet Idaho Power Co.'s anticipated need for 250 megawatts of electricity as soon as three years from now.

The suggestion may be appealing theoretically. After all, development of alternative energy technology continues at a rapid pace, as well it should. Nonetheless, the suggestion is impractical. In terms of reliability, cost and scale of development, wind and solar are not rational or responsible options to meet Idaho's urgent need for significant amounts of reliable energy generation in less than three years.

It is important to remember that the Garnet Energy Facility in Canyon County is proposed for one reason -- to meet the specific need in Idaho for 250 MW of highly dependable energy during periods of peak usage in June, July, August and December and during any other period in which Idaho Power demands the energy, such as during drought conditions. The need will exist beginning in the summer of 2004. Satisfying that need with solar panels or windmills is just not feasible.

To generate 250 MW throughout the year would require well in excess of 10,000 acres of land dotted with solar panels. Previous attempts at large (2 to 10 MW) photovoltaic solar panel facilities in sunnier areas have not been successful.

It is not true that such a huge solar project would be environmentally benign. Think about that much real estate devoted to a solar panel farm. The environmental impacts associated with that much land consumption would be very significant. Additionally, the annual need to replace failed or worn-out panels for such a large installation would consume much of the nation's photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing capacity.

Another significant problem that must be overcome with solar technology is the timing of the need for the energy. Energy demand ramps up quickly beginning at 6 a.m. and continues until 10 p.m. Solar panels would not be contributing energy until the sun rose well above the horizon and would lose effectiveness before the sun goes down in the evening. The energy cannot be stored.

There are similar problems with windmills. Unfortunately, they are even less dependable. For example, the Stateline wind generator farm proposed in northeastern Oregon will be the largest in the country at 300 MW. It will have 450 large turbines with hubs 200 feet above ground and 100-foot-long blades extending above that. Turbines will be placed along many miles of ridgelines, impacting thousands of acres of land. Even given all that expensive infrastructure, the Stateline wind farm will average only 60 MW, due to the variability of the wind.

This point cannot be emphasized enough: Idaho Power customers will require a highly reliable, low-cost energy resource right here in the Treasure Valley in only three years. Compactly situated on only 10 acres, the Garnet project will be capable of production when we need the energy whether or not the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a major proponent of alternative energy development, said it well earlier this year when he wrote in the New York Times: "We are likely to need 1,000 new power plants by 2020. It is preferable that they be clean, efficient, gas-fired plants that emit few pollutants."

That statement correctly describes the Garnet project and illustrates why natural gas is the best -- and indeed the only -- solution to Idaho's pressing energy needs.

Related Pages:
Ida-West's Garnet Project

Blaine Graff, P.E., is director of engineering for Ida-West Energy Co., developer of the proposed Garnet Energy facility.
Wind, Solar Generation not Answer to Our Energy Need
The Idaho Statesman, October 10, 2001

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