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Experts say Idaho Potential for
Wind, Geothermal Development Good

by Staff
Idaho Farm Bureau News, August, 2001

POST FALLS, ID, -- Two power experts told Farm Bureau leaders recently that potential for harnessing wind for power generation is very good in Idaho.

However, Idaho's geothermal potential may be even greater than wind, according to Bob Neilson from the Idah National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). Neilson spoke to Farm Bureau leadership during the Idaho Farm Bureau County Presidents Summer Conference in Post Falls on July 23.

IFB Executive Vice President / CEO Rick Keller said recent power shortages and rate increases heighten the need to look at alternative power generation. "Farm Bureau is very interested in alternative energy generation," Keller said. "And one thing we are accustomed to here in Idaho is a windy day. The large utility companies would like to have solar, wind and other forms of generation but there are transmission issues and they don't want to deal with small producers. We feel it's important that the Deparment of Energy continues to test the feasibility of these alternative energy sources."

Neilson showed a U.S. map detailing geothermal sources. The map showed the Snake River Plaind and southeastern Idaho near Bear Lake as areas rich in relatively untapped geothermal kWh and by 2003 the cost is expected to drop to 2-3 cents per kWh, Neilson said. California companies will have geothermal energy sales exceeding $1 billion this year and as development costs drop, financing will be easier to ascertain, he added.

"Most people aren't aware of this, but since 1892 there have been four geothermal heating districts in Boise heating 4.5 million square feet of offices and homes," Neilson said. "Geothermal heat is also being used in several greenhouses and is widely used in the aquacluture industry."

One fish farm in particular that Neilson mentioned is located near Buhl and owned by Leo Ray. Ray raises trout, catfish, tiapia - afish sold mainly in Asia - and alligators. The waste fish and processing offal are fed to the alligators that are then sold for meat and hides, Neilson said.

Wind is another resource that is currently under study in Idaho. Neilsons said there are several challeges in developing wind power, but it too is a renewable, clean, environmentally friendly source. Germany is the world leader in wind power development. The Germans generate 6,113 megawatts of power from wind per year. The U.S. is second with 2,550 megawatts, followed by Denmark, 2,301, Spain, 2,281, and India with 1,109.

"Wind was used to pump water on many farms and ranches across the West at the turn of the century," Neilson said. "But it's not always reliable which makes it difficult to secure financing for development. It's also difficult to plan for because you never know how much power you are going to be able to generate from wind on a given day."

Another difficulty associated with either wind or geothermal power in Idaho relates to transmission. At the present time our transmiision lines are running at or near capacity. The locatioin fo existing transmission lines is also a challenge in many cases when it comes to integrating power from alternatvie sources into the grid.

New technology is helping to reduce the costs associated with generating power from wind at the same time as costs of producing energy from most other sources is going up. Becuase ot this trend, Neilson believes wind power development will continue to increase.

"The problem with wind is that you don't have all you need all the time. Utilities want to know how much power you can guarantee from day to day, not if the plant will run tomorrow or not," he said.

But in spite of all the perceived difficulties, wind power is viable i many areas and new wind farms are in various stages of development. Neilson said a large wind farm is under construciont in Oregon that when complete will be capable of producing 300 megawatts.

Regarding potential sites for wind power development in Idaho, Neilson described most of the Snake River Plain as "marginal." However, the best map of wind resources available is several years old and was set up in 50-square mile grids. Neilson said that mpa could hav overlooked some areas where localized wind reesources may be outstanding.

Proximity to transmission lines is another critical factor in developing wind power. At today's costs, if the wiind turbines can't be built near transmission lines, you probably won't be able to afford to develop wind power, he said.

The cost to develop wind power is also expected to decrease over the next several years. At present, it costs between $2,000 and $4,000 to develop one megawatt of wind power. Neilson encourages producers to explore the feasibility of using wind pwer to pump water for livestock and irrigation needs. Using wind to drive pumps on some farms and ranches could be a money-saver now and could develop into something bigger in the future, he said.

Nuclear power is also expected to play a bigger role in the Intermountain region in the near future, according to Jim Lake, an INEEL lab director and nuclear scientist. Lake told Idaho Farm Bureau members that the U.S. would need an additional 250,000 megawatts of power over the next 20 years.

"Where will it come from that is clean and affordable?" he asked. "I can assure you that we will not be able to conserve our way to prosperity. We clearly need more energy supplies. Nuclear power is the cheapest form of power generation in the U.S. today."

Lake explained how the nuclear industry has improved its safety record and utilized technology to become more efficient in the process. The new technology that has been developed separates nuclear waste elements depending on length of half-life. The longer lived elements are reused and the shorter are stored which reduces the amount of nuclear waste produced. Lake said a nuclear plant that generates 1,000 megawatts produces about one ton of waste per year, far less than other plants using fossil fuels to generate electricity.

It's clear that nuclear power also has a lot of potential and strong ties in Idaho. However, nuclear waste storage continues to be a hot-button issue with Americans and the cost of building nuclear plants can also be prohibitive.

"It's very encouraging that for the first time in 10 years our nation has an energy policy," Lake said. "Now, it's time for Americans to decid if its socially acceptable to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain."

Websites for Alternative Energy Resources:

Geothermal Energy Resources
U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Program
INEEL Geothermal Program
Geo-Heat Center
Geothermal Energy Association
Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium

Wind Energy Resources
U.S. Department of Energy, Wind Energy Program
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Wind Technology Center
Idaho Department of Water Resources - Energy Division
National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wiind Energy Association

Experts say Idaho Potential for Wind, Geothermal Development Good
Idaho Farm Bureau News - page 8, August, 2001

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