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Opinion roundup July 17, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, Agriculture, economic benefits, Elmore County, Energy policy, environmentalists, Mountain Home News, renewable energy, Snake River Alliance, Water policy, Wind energy.
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While our rezone application moves through the process at Elmore County, I thought I would post some letters to the editor and columns that have appeared lately.

Idaho Statesman, July 16, 2009
Enough delays: Approve Elmore County plant

During an Elmore County commissioners’ meeting, supporters of the nuclear power plant outnumbered opponents 5-to-1 and 1,600 petition signatures were submitted in support. Yet, after a year of hearings, the answer from commissioners was the comprehensive plan is outdated and go back to square one. Those opposing are few: a discounted far-left environmental group and a handful of Hammett farmers who support nuclear power but want it constructed in a different location. From the hearings I have attended, radio debates I’ve listened to, and discussions with both farmers and Hammett residents, their responses are loud and clear: the majority of Idahoans are in favor of the power plant and they recognize that this is our big chance to attract large companies who bring stable jobs but need more than what Idaho Power can provide them with. It’s what Idaho has been looking for and it’s what Idaho desperately needs to lead the Northwest and the United States in clean power. My plea to the commissioners is to please stop stalling by appeasing a few and start representing the majority voice. Let us help ourselves to have a brighter future by approving this power plant.

KEVIN F. AMAR, Meridian

Mountain Home News, July 15, 2009
If you want growth, nuclear power plant is viable option

Dear editor:
As I sit here on Saturday morning, June 20, 2009, I look outside my window and see Idaho’s energy future. At least the future that many near-sighted folks want us to put all our faith and trust. It is completely still with nary a whisper of wind to turn even the most efficient wind turbine and so overcast that solar power couldn’t power up an LED bulb.

Naive, I am not. I know this is not the norm for Elmore County; but to set so much reliance on wind, water and solar cannot be our standard for the future of energy for the Pacific Northwest, Western United States, or even the United States as a whole

We cannot afford any more coal powered plants — that is a given. We must invest in other means of powering our society with the electrical demands we have established. Whether for our homes, computers, cell phones, mobile phones, or even the increased future of hybrid or solely electric vehicles — we need electricity! That fact will not go away lest we make the conscious decision to revert back to the 1800s. We can do that, but mind you, it will make it very difficult to continue advances (or even sustain our current abilities) in medicine or just how we live from day to day. If we minimize production, whatever electricity we might have given to us would go first to the established leadership of our county, second to the military, third to health care and finally to Joe Average — come to think of it, it reminds me of how things were divided in Stalinist Russia.

I have heard the discussions before the P&Z, the County Commissioners, read the articles, blogs and opinions in the Mountain Home News and watched the DVD. I’ve listened to the arguments, pro and con, that take place throughout the county and I must say that the controversy over a rezone application has this whole county stymied.

I have seen how people outside of Elmore County have been brought in and have gotten deep into our business. Were they invited — yes, however; when the final decision is made, are they going to be living here to deal with the first-hand consequences of that decision? NO, they won’t!

I have lived in several areas around the United States and around the world. I have lived in areas of extreme prosperity and in utter poverty — and as a personal preference, I chose the comforts of prosperity. I heard it said at one meeting that, “…electricity is overrated.” We, in these United States, are accustomed to many hi-tech devices that we may not know how they work, it just suits our cause when and because they work. I’m not an expert, but I think it requires electricity to take such things as X-rays for proper dental work, broken bone manipulation or detailed neurological procedures. I seem to remember that farmers need electricity to run the water pumps for their irrigation lines in order to get to the point of harvest of hay, corn, wheat or potatoes. I know it is very time consuming to milk dairy cattle by hand and when you have upwards of 5,000 or 6,000 head of cattle that require two milkings per day it can be a VERY time consuming job, unless a dairy has the financial resources to employ hundreds of workers and we wish to pay $10 or more for a gallon of milk.

Since the time I arrived in Idaho in 1997, my power bill has tripled. When I arrived, I too asked the question of why isn’t wind or solar energy being harnessed. The standard response was hydro power is so cheap and plentiful.

So in 12 years, we’ve experienced drought, population growth, economic downturn and a serious lack to decisively invest into new sources of power. We are now so far behind the power curve it’s pitiful. To have known it would come to this level of disparity was unthinkable. No one could have known, but we did have the knowledge and resources available during the good years that could have made these tough times a bit more bearable, had we prepared.

I know the issues of rezone, water use, nuclear power, availability of suitable farm land all have their supporters and opponents to some degree, but the desired advancement throughout time has been this: we seek to make better, to use more efficiently, to build in a margin of safety wherever possible.

If we seek to “do it right,” I believe the co-existence of these issues is entirely possible, plausible and suitable for Elmore County.

Fears, yes, they exist because the human factor exists. But if we become so captivated by those fears that we become frozen in place rather than being motivated to exercise caution and seek safety at every turn to make it better, we can go forward with an expectation of success for everyone.

Of all the nuclear power facilities in the world — have all been failures? Have all been shut down because of fears of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island? Have we not learned from the mistakes that were made of improper design? Has not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission been involved to inspect and certify plants for the public’s safety?

Our world is constantly changing. I enjoy the rural lifestyle of Elmore County and even get fed up with traffic surges that happen twice daily throughout the workweek. But change required stoplights to be installed, road maintenance and improvements to be accomplished; all because we are growing county and that is already a fact of life.

If we want to keep our status quo, then we need to limit our household growths to 1 or 2 children, mandated by law (I think that idea was called Zero Population Growth — back in the ’70s and ’80s; it didn’t work) — reminds me of current day China. Mountain Home has about doubled in size since the 1990s and will probably continue to grow as time goes on. This doesn’t even include the rest of southwestern Idaho, which has seen a marked growth since the mid-1990s.

Change is inevitable and with change comes new requirements. Satisfaction of those requirements must be met and for an economy that means taxes, or housing, or jobs, or transportation, or construction or a myriad of things to meet those requirements.

So what do we do? We have a company that wishes to come into Elmore County (it really didn’t matter to this company where they came in as was evidenced by the Owyhee County course of events and to know that they were invited) to take a piece of land that is not prime and to establish an enterprise on that land.

If it was prime farmland, people would be scrambling at every opportunity to obtain and farm the land. It is land that does have farmable soil and relatively good position to highway and rail support. But the slope of the landscape causes high water drainage and proximity to the Snake River, which funnels the air and causes high evaporation of the remaining moisture content greatly decreases the viable use of this parcel of land for great farming purposes.

This company proposes to level the land, build a viable enterprise, boost the economy and improve the infrastructure of Elmore County. Would they be so determined in their efforts to complete this venture unless they were serious? Fact or fiction?

If you don’t want to promote growth, provide jobs and make improvements to Elmore County, then takes these objectives out of your plans, otherwise; make the plans coincide properly with these objectives, allow the rezone, and move forward.

Roy D. Newer II

Mountain Home News, July 15, 2009
Nuclear power plnt would be a boon to local economy

Dear editor:
This past spring, I spent quite a bit of time doing community organizing work in Elmore County on the rezone for Alternate Energy Holdings Inc.’s proposed power plant. This included visiting Elmore County towns for petition signatures and showing people how they could get involved in the effort to bring well-paying jobs and clean industry to Elmore County.

It was hard work and exciting, but I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the poverty I would see going door-to-door in Glenns Ferry and Hammett. In homes, food lines, businesses and on the street, I came across hardworking people very worried about their futures and how they would keep a roof over their heads. Many were seasonal agricultural workers.

Economic development is a social justice issue. Many times, influential people who run the established order want to keep things the way they are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing especially if, like Elmore County farmers, they work hard, employ people and produce a needed product like food.

However, if the established order also includes keeping people in poverty, there is something very, very wrong with that. One way to address it is through government programs. But for people to be truly economically self-sufficient, they need family-wage jobs with benefits. A power plant with 500 direct jobs, 1,500 spin-off jobs and average wages of $80,000 is one way to do it.

There is great need: according to Census Bureau data, poverty rates in the Glenns Ferry and Hammett ZIP codes are between 17 and 21 percent, well above the 12 percent state average (http://tinyurl.com/nra2jg). Of course, there are other ways to provide these jobs and if anyone else genuinely wants to provide family-wage jobs with a new industry, I urge them to submit their plans.

Also, the industries that create these family-wage jobs are taxed at much higher industrial and commercial rates. Those taxes pay for school, fire, police, parks, libraries, planning, administration, roads and lowering the taxes of everyone else. Currently, agricultural taxes simply don’t provide this level of local government funding. A power plant should also go above and beyond tax obligations and construct public buildings, establish scholarships and run a foundation for the privilege of being in a community.

It’s sad to hear people say, “The nuclear plant won’t hire Elmore people,” as though Elmore residents can’t work in a security-conscious, technically-oriented setting. I think Elmore residents are among the best qualified for nuclear plant jobs, because many are veterans or used to work at Mountain Home Air Force Base. A nuclear plant has many military aspects, including extreme security consciousness; a highly trained, armed security force; and strong safety culture.

Most jobs at a nuclear plant don’t require a college degree and some don’t require high levels of training: foodservice, janitors, landscaping and materials handling. Other jobs need training ranging from certification to advanced college degrees: mechanics, security officers, technicians, office workers, pipefitters, attorneys, managers, electricians or nuclear physicists. We believe Elmore residents already qualify for the vast majority of these jobs. We hope bright Elmore County youths will be able to return home and work at our plant or spin-off industries. In addition, the plentiful power from a nuclear plant will attract other industry.

Best of all, agriculture can continue as it always has, although wages for ag jobs may rise in a competitive job market. Our nuclear plant would occupy just 200 acres. As is common with nuclear plants, the land around ours will continue to be farmed and create a security buffer. Interestingly, the American Farm Bureau calls for increased use of nuclear power (http://tinyurl.com/kokgnq).

Environmental groups normally align themselves with social justice causes. But in this case, some are working alongside a few Hammett-area farmers to, in effect, keep struggling people from accessing better-paid jobs and opportunity. In this clash of principles, the struggling families of Elmore County have been on the losing side.

The environmental groups might say “We’re not against family-wage jobs, but a nuclear plant isn’t the way to do it.” To which I respond: If you cared to ask the struggling families of Elmore County what they think and want, you might not be so eager to tell them no.

Martin Johncox,

Boise

(Editor’s note: Johncox handles public relations for AEHI).

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About Elmore County’s Comprehensive Plan June 9, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, Agriculture, approval process, economic benefits, Elmore County, nuclear industry, rural nuclear, Snake River Alliance, Solar energy, Wind energy.
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(We submitted this opinion to the Mountain Home News today for publication tomorrow.)

The Elmore County Commission said some surprising things Monday. Since they can’t hear any more testimony, it is likely my words won’t make it to them. But it would be helpful, whether or not this project succeeds, to clarify a few things.

The Commissioners correctly pointed out on several occasions the comprehensive plan appears to conflict with itself. That is to be expected in a complex effort like land use planning, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As I will talk about, our rezone proposal actually does conform to the comprehensive plan because our development would provide steady, well-paying jobs; will greatly improve the local tax base; won’t threaten the rural way of life so important to Elmore County residents; and we have addressed concerns about possible future misuse of the land.

The Commission asked their attorney for an opinion as to whether or not they can restrict future uses of the land. The Commissioners are concerned that if they rezone the land for industrial use and the nuclear plant isn’t developed, the landowner could apply to build some undesirable use and the commission would have little ability to stop it.

This is a reasonable concern. However, we addressed it early on in the process. Along with our application, we submitted a development agreement. The agreement makes clear that if we do not build a nuclear power plant on the land, then it must revert to agricultural zoning.

Elected officials are understandably reluctant to deviate from their comprehensive plans. However, they also know there will come times to make reasonable exceptions. We believe this is such a time. The current comprehensive plan, however well-intentioned, did not foresee the possibility of an ambitious and economically significant proposal such as ours, the most expensive single piece of private infrastructure ever proposed for Idaho.

The designated industrial location, Simco Road, has very little water; a 20-mile-long pipe would need to be constructed, presenting insurmountable safety and right-of-way concerns. The site has geologic issues that also make it difficult to site a nuclear plant there. Interestingly, much more intrusive uses, such as industrial wind farms and natural gas plants, may be located anywhere in the county without a heavy industrial designation. This is especially puzzling, as a nuclear plant emits no smoke, noise, dust or odors and takes up very little space.

Another commissioner said the people of Hammett have spoken overwhelmingly against the rezone. While many Hammett-area farmers spoke as individuals (and included their feelings again as members of a group), that is by no means representative of Hammett the town, where many of the workers on these farms actually live.

Of the 1,600 signatures we gathered in favor of the rezone (half from Elmore County), we estimate at least 50 came from in and around Hammett, where our community organizing efforts found people, many of them agricultural workers, desperate for stable, well-paying jobs. These figures suggest national polls about nuclear power, which routinely show 70%-plus support.

One of the commissioners’ least enviable jobs is to balance competing interests, each of them important. Should they (as our opponents say) approve an industry that would destroy the rural way of life? Or should they adopt a clean, stable source of energy and the jobs that go with it? Unfortunately, our opponents have presented this as an either-or choice when, in fact, it is not. In terms of being an industrial use, we will no more impose upon Elmore County’s rural way of life than a cheese plant or an air force base (which we whole heartedly support as a veteran run organization).

If the farmers could demonstrate the plant we propose would harm their way of life, they might have a case for keeping hundreds of their fellow county residents from holding power plant jobs. As it stands, however, nuclear plants are excellent neighbors. Of the 1,300 acres proposed in our rezone, about 200 would be for the actual plant. The remaining land would consist of ponds and farms, as is common in the predominantly rural settings where nuclear plants are located. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, it costs 1.8 cents to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity with nuclear power, and that power is produced more than 90 percent of the time (http://tinyurl.com/2pgc8k). That’s a significant benefit to farmers

Indeed, Elmore County farms have for decades abutted extremely intensive heavy-industrial uses with no problems. I’m speaking of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Despite the general mistrust of government in our society, the Air Force Base has been a good neighbor and is a pillar of the region’s economy. Safe to say, MHAFB would have a hard time fitting in the Simco Road location.

One commissioner also expressed concern about how construction would affect local services. Any sort of significant project will certainly impose some burdens and we have suggested ways to address them. Ideas include paying money directly to the county to reduce the bill for all taxpayers as compensation for disruption; job training; a community center; scholarships; direct infrastructure funding; and a committee to oversee service needs (for details, see my open letter to the people of Hammett on my blog at www.cleanidahoenergy.wordpress.com). Not to mention, these burdens would pale in comparison to the benefits specified in the next paragraph.

Current farms in Elmore County produce 2.86 jobs (some seasonal) per acre, or about 4 jobs at the current location. Our plant would produce 500-year round jobs at the site and 5,000 peak jobs per year during construction; $558 million in local payroll and labor income; and $205 million in local ripple payroll income. The plant would also create an additional 1,754 full-time support jobs and massive improvements in schools, police, fire and other infrastructure funding.

The irony isn’t lost on me that the commission these days is also holding meetings on how to deal with a pressing budget crisis. Our proposal would start putting people to work immediately and increase the economic security for the all residents of Elmore County.

One of the Commissioners made another important statement. If Elmore County residents – and presumably the Snake River Alliance – wish to see farmland kept undeveloped, they should probably consider forming a land trust or other legal vehicle to accomplish it. To restrict private property rights for that reason is not a wise use of power.

Things are going well for AEHI. Last week, we signed an agreement with Source Capital Group Inc. to raise money for the project. The funds will cover land, water rights and engineering services to obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to construct and operate an advanced nuclear plant in Elmore County, Idaho, estimated to total some $70 million. Every company that has undertaken the NRC application process has successfully completed it and received a construction/operation license.

We see a bright future for Elmore County, one that many communities in America share. It is a future of economic security and low-cost energy, with a nuclear plant quietly, cleanly and dependably powering its farms, homes and businesses. We hope the Elmore County Commission votes for this future and approves our rezone.

Environmentalists continue fight against renewable energy January 6, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, anti-renewable energy, balanced approach, Energy policy, environmentalists, renewable energy, Snake River Alliance, Solar energy, Wind energy.
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Normally, the media are very starry-eyed when reporting on renewable energy. When it comes to coverage of nuclear power, the media are extremely skeptical and ask the tough questions (as all good journalists should), but renewable get a pass and questions about reliability, viability, environmental impact and public support are rarely raised.

That’s not the case in last week’s Idaho Statesman and kudos to Rocky Barker for taking a realistic look at renewable energy. He writes, “Greener energy sources such as geothermal wells and sprawling wind farms are being touted as the nation’s environmentally friendly answer to energy independence, but so far, alternative energy developers are finding that they face many of the same conflicts as traditional generation plants.”

Among other projects, Barker looked at “the most controversial wind farm in the state,” the proposed China Mountain project, a 185-turbine farm in Twin Falls County. The project, on 30,000 acres of public land, would produce more than 400 megawatts of electricity (by comparison, our plant would produce four times that amount of energy on four percent of the area, and at 95 percent reliability, compared to around 20 for wind). Environmentalists have opposed wind farms nationwide, not just Idaho.

As Barker reports, in July, a regional Fish and Game supervisor voiced concerns about the effects the wind farm could have on wildlife, including the endangered sage grouse. Neighbors complained about the effect the wind farm would have on the views from their cabins and Advocates of the West, a group that provides lawyers for environmental groups, is preparing to challenge several wind projects planned in sagebrush habitat.

July 1, 2008, was a good example of where the priorities of some environmentalist lie. The embattled China Mountain wind farm was facing a crucial public hearing, but it was the same night as a meeting to organize opposition to our nuclear plant. When push came to shove, “We were not present at the China Mountain scoping meeting because it occurred the same night as our public meeting about the AEHI plant.” Liz Woodruff, SRA energy policy analyst, said the SRA “submitted comments regarding the proposal” but tellingly doesn’t say if they actually supported China Mountain or urged officials to approve it. The Snake River Alliance’s own mission statement declares that it can oppose specific facilities, but advocating for specific facilities isn’t part of the mission (at least give the SRA credit for sticking to its real game plan).

I think the radical environmentalist veneer is starting to fall. Something tells me the SRA didn’t try to “educate and inform” residents opposed to China Mountain, as they have done to rally opposition to our plant. Personally, I think the SRA lacks the stomach to face an angry group of neighbors and declare that a wind farm should be approved because it’s in the broader public interest. If the Snake River Alliance is out there directly supporting specific renewable facilities in public hearings, they’re doing a good job keeping it quiet.

Some environmentalists take opposition to renewable a step further. Laird Lucas, lead attorney for Advocates of the West, says he’s “skeptical that wind, solar and geothermal plants spread out across the wide open spaces of the West and linked to populated areas through vast transmissions systems are the answer to increasing carbon-free energy supplies,” according to Barker’s story.

“I think there’s a chance that these big solar farms and wind farms will be obsolete almost as soon as we develop them,” Lucas says in the story. “We need to somehow get people engaged directly in producing our own energy.”

I think some environmentalists are really aiming for a larger target and their ultimate goal is to “power down” and de-industrialize our society. I’m not making any of this up – see it at http://www.postcarbon.org and similar sites, where discussion of “societal collapse” and hopeless peak oil scenarios are enough to make you end it all today. An industrial society needs industrial energy sources and combating those sources is one way to “power down” our civilization.

In the meantime, out-of-the-mainstream environmentalists will have to content themselves with paying lip service to renewable energy, by opposing it or failing to speak up for it every chance they get. I hope the media educate the public about this more.

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.