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Idaho Wind-Power Interest Grows

by Ken Dey
Idaho Statesman, January 19, 2002

New DOE map: 1.3 million acres have potential

Interest in Idaho´s potential for wind power continues to grow.

A new map released this week by the U.S. Department of Energy identifies 1.3 million acres in Idaho with wind- power potential.

At the same time, the Denmark-based company EnXco, which is developing Idaho´s first major wind power project, a $30 million endeavor near Twin Falls, has signed contracts with another half dozen Idaho landowners interested in developing so-called wind farms on their property.

"We´ve had a lot of enthusiasm from farmers and ranchers in Idaho," said Dave Luck, in charge of development for EnXco.

Luck said his company has signed contracts primarily with landowners in southeastern and southwestern Idaho. He declined to identify them by name or specific location.

The contracts don´t necessarily guarantee wind power projects will be built. Instead, the contracts give EnXco permission to install weather towers on the land to determine if the wind in the area is of sufficient speed and density to operate a wind turbine. On average, a wind turbine needs sustained winds of at least 14 mph.

Luck said the towers have to remain on the property for nine months to a year to provide enough data to see if the area is viable.

Optimal winds are those rated Class 3 or above. Class 3 winds not only have the minimum speed required, but also have sufficient density.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the largest Class 3 area in Idaho is an 800,000-acre area in Owyhee and southern Elmore counties. Five other areas larger than 100,000 acres have been identified as having commercially viable wind. They span portions of Bingham, Blaine, Bonneville, Butte, Camas, Cassia, Clark, Custer, Gooding, Jefferson, Lemhi, Lincoln and Power counties.

Idaho has no substantial pockets of land with a rating above Class 3.

Dick Larsen with the Idaho Department of Water Resources said Idaho´s wind-power industry has exploded in the past year.

"There was absolutely no industry eight months ago -- not a single plant under development," Larsen said. "But all of a sudden Idaho woke up and realized there´s money to be made."

Last spring hundreds of people attended a series of public meetings to discuss wind power and to get more information.

Luck, who jokes that everyone in Idaho must have his cell phone number, said there´s definitely a lot of "pent-up demand" in Idaho to develop wind power.

"You´re making a cash crop out of something that exists naturally," Larsen said.

Wind power, unlike other traditional power-generating methods, has very little environmental impact. Wind turbines can be placed on as little as a tenth of an acre, and once in place farmers and ranchers still can use surrounding land, Larsen said.

EnXco is the first major company to start developing wind power, but Larsen expects EnXco´s interest will drive more developers to Idaho.

Although the popularity of wind power in Idaho is growing, the size of the projects likely will remain fairly small, Luck said.

Because of Idaho´s geography and lifestyle, Luck doesn´t think massive projects with hundreds of wind turbines grouped together would work in the state.

One advantage to smaller projects is that their power is much easier to integrate into the existing electrical transmission system.

Luck said he expects most projects would produce wind power in the 30 to 50 megawatt range. By comparison, the proposed natural-gas-powered generating plant in Middleton could produce more than 500 megawatts of power.

According to the Wind Power Association, wind power can now be sold for about 4 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 1979, when wind power cost 40 cents per kilowatt hour. Luck said those rates put wind power close to traditional forms of generation that costs about 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour. EnXco is looking for landowners interested in developing wind power on their property. For more information, call Luck at 1-503-913-6212.

Related Sites:
Idaho Department of Water Resources Wind Power

Ken Dey
Idaho Wind-Power Interest Grows
Idaho Statesman, January 19, 2002

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