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State makes right move in shifting focus away from wind December 30, 2008

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in balanced approach, Energy policy, Idaho leadership, Politics and nuclear, Snake River Alliance, Wind energy.
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The Associated Press, with a clear bias for wind energy, reports that Gov. Otter has disbanded the Idaho Wind Power Working Group, the state’s wind promotion think tank, and reassigned its staff member to work on energy efficiency instead. The Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, a panel Otter created to plan for the state’s energy needs, will assume some of the working group’s functions. Energy office director Paul Kjellander said he made the changes to better coordinate renewable energy development, including biogas from dairies, solar and geothermal, under Otter’s new alliance.

This is a very wise move on the part of the state government. Before I am pegged as being anti-wind, one of AEHI’s subsidiaries, Energy Neutral, works to put wind, solar and other renewable into new and existing homes and businesses, so I understand the potential and proper place for wind energy.

As far as a statewide policy for Idaho, energy efficiency is a better goal than wind promotion. Wind is a niche power source at best and the real energy issue in Idaho is no base load plants have been built in 30 years. The Associated Press, the Snake River Alliance and other wind promoters like to say Idaho ranks 13th among states for wind power potential. That figure comes from the American Wind Energy Association which obviously has in interest in promoting wind development.

A rank of 13 is actually misleading, because wind potential, like fossil fuels, geothermal, hydro or solar power potential, is a gift that nature does not share equally. Taking a look at the wind potential map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory below, we can see that only a few areas nationally reach Class 3, the minimum required for utility-scale power generation, and 95 percent of Idaho ranks as Class 1 or 2; indeed, most of the U.S. ranks as Class 1 or below. Only in the very center of the nation – from about North Dakota to straight down to northern Texas – are there large contiguous areas necessary for large-scale industrial wind production.

Idaho has few areas suitable for utility-scale wind production

Idaho has few areas suitable for utility-scale wind production

According to the NREL, “Areas designated Class 3 or greater are suitable for most utility-scale wind turbine applications, whereas class 2 areas are marginal for utility-scale applications but may be suitable for rural applications.”

The 50-meter wind resource map below presents the same information a bit differently, showing wind speed estimates at 50 meters above the ground and depicting the resource that could be used for utility-scale wind development. Of the developable areas in Idaho, most are fair-to-marginal for utility-scale generation.

irwm-1

Still, savvy wind developers are finding and harnessing Idaho’s wind potential and I wish them the best of luck. We can and should be developing every green energy source at our disposal.

These maps are further evidence that Gov. Otter and Paul Kjellander made the right decision. If Idaho were one of the few states that had an abundance of utility-scale generation, then a state office dedicated to wind energy would make sense. As it stands, however, Idaho’s wind energy resources are more suitable for smaller-scale rural production, which has an important role to play in the scheme of things. But Idaho definitely doesn’t have the concentration of wind resources for any sizeable utility-scale generation.

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