Wind Could Offer Idaho
by Ken Dey
Turbine project proposed for site near Twin Falls
Idaho's ever-present wind would become a resource for electricity under a $30-million plan to build Idaho's first commercial wind power project near Twin Falls.
The plan is still tentative, but it has the backing of many state officials and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who is a strong advocate of exploring new energy sources.
Crapo said the country needs a national energy policy that would emphasize the need for diverse energy sources, and he praised the California company, EnXco, for its efforts to install wind-powered generators in Idaho.
"I think they're bringing an exciting opportunity to Idaho," Crapo said Tuesday. "We need to have the ability to weather the ups and downs in the market."
Wind power could avoid those ups and downs, because its price and availability would not vary with the cost of natural gas, oil or coal, or the size of each winter's snowpack.
A spokesman for the Idaho Department of Water Resources said wind power also could reduce the state's need for water from the hydropower system, allowing more water for endangered salmon species and for irrigation.
EnXco, based in Palm Springs, Calif., has entered into an agreement with landowner John Lezamiz that would allow the company to place about 20 wind turbines on 1,000 acres he owns north of Jerome near the Lincoln and Jerome counties line.
The turbines could generate about 30 megawatts of power, far less than the 250 megawatts promised from the gas-fired power plant proposed near Middleton in Canyon County. But if their first project works, EnXco officials said, they would expect to negotiate more "wind farms" in Idaho -- most of which would be located near main power transmission lines in rural areas.
The Idaho project is in its early stages, said Dave Luck, who handles business development for EnXco.
"We're trying to evaluate and determine if that site has enough wind enough of the time to make the project economically viable," Luck said.
Last week, the company installed two advanced weather towers on the property to monitor wind in the area.
Luck said it probably will take three to six months' data before they can determine whether the site is appropriate.
If the answer is yes, it will take about six months of planning and six month of construction before the turbines would be producing electricity.
Luck said the power produced at the plant would then be sold on the wholesale market, with Idaho Power a potential buyer.
Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said the utility welcomes the development of alternative energy sources in the state.
Power from the plant could be purchased by Idaho Power and also could be used to supply the utility's Green Power Program.
Under that program, customers who sign up agree to spend more so Idaho Power can purchase "green power," primarily wind- and solar-generated, which typically costs more than traditional power sources.
By supporting alternative energy sources, Lopez said, the hope is that the power costs will drop and the options will become more commercially viable.
Wind power is still slightly more expensive to produce than power from traditional sources, but is very close to being competitive.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade association, wind power cost about 38 cents a kilowatt-hour in the early 1980s when the technology was first being used. The association said electricity produced by wind generators now sells for as low as 4 cents a kilowatt hour, and by 2005 is estimated to be near 2 1/2 cents a kilowatt hour.
Even though the price can be higher, it won't vary much, unlike power from natural-gas-fired plants that can be affected by spikes in natural-gas prices, Luck said.
EnXco operates more than 4,400 wind turbine generators worldwide. The company's largest operations are in California.
Luck said the company has only recently started focusing its efforts on the Northwest, which has great potential for wind power.
According to wind power advocates, Idaho's potential wind resources rank at 13th best in the United States. It's estimated the state's wind energy potential could produce 73 billion kilowatt hours a year, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Luck said wind power farms also can benefit the agriculture community.
"Farmers think of it as an alternative cash crop," Luck said. "It's harvesting the wind."
The company doesn't purchase the land for the plant, but negotiates easements with landowners for an access road and the ground to place the turbines.
Because the turbines don't require much room, farmers can continue to cultivate the land or use it for grazing.
In exchange for the easement, landowners are either given a one-time payment for each turbine or given the option to receive a percentage of profits from the sale of electricity.
The interest among the agriculture community has continued to grow, according to Dick Larsen, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
Seminars on wind power held by the department last spring were very well attended and spawned this month's wind power conference.
Although Idaho has the wind resources, there are no incentive programs in place to attract companies, but that could change.
Crapo will be the featured presenter at the first Idaho Wind Power Conference on Oct. 22, sponsored by the Energy Division of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
Crapo acknowledged that there's a need for some kind of financial incentive such as a tax break to attract companies such as EnXco.
What type of incentives might be used will be the focus of a working group formed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources Energy Division.
Larsen said the group will look at all options to promote wind energy in the state, including possible legislative changes.
The group will hold its first meeting from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Hatch Ballroom in the BSU Student Union. The meeting will be open to the public.
Meanwhile, Luck remains confident that the potential for wind power in Idaho will be realized.
"We think there's enough potential to invest money in it," Luck said. "We're pretty sure there's commercial wind in Idaho."
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