Huge Wind Project Breaks New Ground for Idaho
GE and its partners, including Boise-based Exergy Development Group, have already begun building the Idaho Wind Partners project - 11 wind farms along the Oregon Trail from Hagerman to Burley.
The $500 million project will become Idaho's biggest wind project and one of the largest in the entire Pacific Northwest. Once completed, the 11 farms will be able to generate 183 megawatts, enough to power 39,700 Idaho homes.
The project will create 175 construction jobs, 25 permanent jobs and, using federal Energy Department estimates, will support 2,200 full-time jobs a year nationwide. Eight of those jobs are with Precision Communications, which installed 43 miles of fiber optic cable that connects the wind turbines by computer, so they can be remotely shut on and off and monitored.
Jim Woodhead, president of PreCom, said he's glad Idaho is catching up with its neighbors - Washington, Oregon and Montana - which all have more wind generation that Idaho. Once these turbines are completed, they will help make wind power even more reliable across the region.
"The wind is always blowing somewhere," he said.
Otter said the development of the wind industry is the newest chapter in Idaho's long history of creating its own power using renewable sources, starting with the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River, Idaho Power's first hydroelectric dam.
"The renewable energy industry is breathing new life into the Idaho frontier," said Otter.
The project was made possible by the 2005 federal energy bill, which included a grant to developers who could begin construction by the end of the year.
"This project wouldn't exist save for the federal grant," Urquhart said.
He said more wind projects like this will not be possible unless federal clean energy legislation is passed. The current program ends at the end of the year.
"Extending that program and other federal incentives would provide the long-term certainty that investors and manufacturers such as GE need to ensure continued expansion of renewable energy throughout the country," he said.
James Carculis, president and CEO of Exergy, which started the wind project, praised Idaho lawmakers and Otter for letting it move forward. The most important action lawmakers can take is to keep the sales tax exemption for renewable energy production in place, he said.
The wind farms will sell all of the power to Idaho Power under 20-year agreements, as required by the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. The law stipulates that these projects' prices are calculated based on how much Idaho Power would pay to get the power elsewhere.
Since its main alternative is natural gas and the price of natural gas has dropped, so has the price the company will pay for wind, solar and geothermal. Idaho Power has more than 200 megawatts of wind power on its system and more than 250 additional megawatts under contract.
When all of these projects are completed along with the others already approved, Idaho Power may have around 800 megawatts of wind on its system in a few years - that's more than the power produced from the Hells Canyon hydroelectric projects.
Idaho Power is studying how it can better integrate intermittent sources like wind into its system. It says its new Langley Gulch natural gas plant will help.
"We continue to remain focused on developing a balanced resource portfolio," said Idaho Power Senior Vice President of Power Supply Lisa Grow.