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Wind Power may Boost Rural Economy

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, October 26, 2001

BOISE -- Wind is one of the greatest untapped natural resources in the United States, capable of reviving rural economies, helping farmers and ranchers, and easing the nation's dependence on Mideast oil, said U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Farmers and ranchers can lease land for turbines, or can operate wind generators themselves, said Crapo, addressing the opening session of a wind conference here by video. "They'll be able to farm or graze livestock right up to the base of the turbines. Wind generation is a potential tool for rural development, a new source of income that will get producers away from the swings of the traditional natural resource economy."

Idaho relies on hydropower generation for most of its electricity. Hydropower traditionally is very cheap, but demand is growing beyond supply capacity. Wind turbines could fill in the gap, the senator said.

Wind generation's potential boost to rural economies was a major theme of the day-long conference.

conference speaker Karl Dreher, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, noted that Idaho has gone from exporting excess electricity to importing power.

"Who would have thought we would ever pay farmers not to irrigate crops because we thought we'd need the energy they would save by turning off their pumps. We've learned drought can limit a hydropower system that worked so well we haven't paid much attention to it in the past," he said.

Wind is already a source of sustainable income elsewhere in the nation. Idaho should use the wind for income and supplement its energy production with a truly renewable resource, he said.

Reliable electrical energy is very much a matter of national security, said Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, chairman of the Idaho Legislature's interim committee on electrical deregulation.

"In rural areas, we were very aware deregulation would lead to moving energy to more efficient urban use, which in turn would mean increased rates for rural areas. It led directly to chaos in the West in recent months, Noh said.

Panel is Learning
The committee learned several things about deregulation over the years, including that utilities can be sold to companies outside a state, sometimes foreign businesses. New owners may not understand Western water law or irrigation needs, the senator said.

"We've also learned that virtually every electrical generation company in the country relied on abundant natural gas when laying plans for new generating capacity in the future. That is not realistic," Noh said.

Climate scientists are convinced temperatures will continue to rise in coming years, which in Idaho means less water available to be stored for hydropower generation, he said.

As deregulation took hold, the focus of most generation companies shifted from maintaining low rates for customers to gaining maximum returns for stockholders. At the same time, the entire country has shifted industry to computers, and to heavy use of electricity, he said.

"It all comes down to how very important a diversity of energy sources is. Wind power is one we don't want to overlook," Noh said. IPCO Eyes Wind
Idaho Power Co. generates power with hydro, coal and gas resources. Wind generation is coming, but how soon depends on customer interest, said John Prescott, IPCo. vice president of power supply.

IPCo.'s green energy program surveys customers to determine who will contribute additional monies with their power bill to support developing alternative energy generation, he said.

Contributions are sent to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for now, until IPCo. gets significant demand for alternative generation. The foundation invests in projects such as wind, solar and biomass generation, Prescott said.

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press Staff Writer
Wind Power may Boost Rural Economy
Capital Press, October 26, 2001

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