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Imported Energy Drains Economy

by Pat McCoy, staff writer
Capital Press, July 25, 2008

Study urges state leaders to invest in alternatives

Rows of windmills rise above wheat fields in Eastern Oregon. Renewable energy gains in popularity every year.

Idaho is at the mercy of increasingly volatile world energy markets, yet the costs can be controlled if the state develops its renewable and energy efficiency resources, according to a recent study.

That conclusion came out of "Securing Idaho's Energy Future," a study completed by the Athena Institute and commissioned by Climate Solutions with a grant from the Energy Foundation.

The report, aired in a July 16 telephone press conference, said Idaho residents, farms and businesses spend over $3.7 billion a year for energy, 80 percent of it produced elsewhere.

"Idaho has relied on low-cost hydropower," said P.S. Reilly, Athena president and lead author of the report. "That allowed the state to attract a number of energy-dependent industries. Idaho is now at an energy crossroads, with a lot of untapped potential."

The state could use what it has more efficiently and develop new energy sources, particularly geothermal and wind power, she said. There's also a major opportunity to turn manure and other animal waste into clean, natural gas.

"There are dozens of other examples, and hundreds of opportunities, which in turn are good opportunities for economic development and jobs," Reilly said. "Those benefits accrue to rural as much as to urban areas, but developing them will require bold leadership from policy makers. Idaho has amazing assets to harness, but doing so will take collaboration."

The era of cheap energy is over in Idaho, said Dar Olberding, an Emmett, Idaho, farmer, and legislative advisor to the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

"Relying on 80 percent of our energy from outside sources is very risky," said Olberding, a participant in the tele-conference. "Farmers are at the mercy of the weather and increasing prices for fuel and fertilizer. All of them affect our bottom line. Even as costs go up, the current price of wheat is only 50 cents a bushel more than it was a year ago. Stable and reliable energy costs would be a major benefit to all agriculture.

"Our industry is probably one of the bigger users of energy in Idaho. Leasing or selling sites for wind generators, new biofuels markets for ag waste, and natural gas made from manure could all mean millions of dollars to farmers and ranchers, and new tax revenues for local governments," he said. "Yet on-the-ground development of renewable energy is lagging. We need to get this moving in the 2009 legislative session."

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise, chairman of an Idaho Legislative interim committee on energy, agreed.

"This report advances some of the key goals identified in our own report on Idaho's energy future," McKenzie said. "As we looked at Idaho in the context of the entire Northwest, we saw efficiency, doing more with fewer resources, and developing renewable resources need to be a top priority for moving forward."

He and other legislators sponsored a number of bills to that end in the last legislative session, he said. Some passed, while others failed.

"We will bring them up again in the next session and do what we can to make Idaho's energy future more secure through less reliance on imports," he said.

The executive summary of the report, available online at, said any number of technology and policy combinations could enable Idaho to tap its natural resource and energy efficiency potential.

The report envisions three scenarios: having Idaho replace a portion of its petroleum use with alternative fuels and hybrid or electrical vehicles; adopting system efficiencies at energy plants or distribution points; and making a significant commitment to wind and solar energy, developing geothermal and biofuels, and upgrading existing hydropower facilities and some micro-hydro projects.

The Athena Institute is an independent research and consulting firm. More information is at Climate Solutions is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating solutions to global warming, and to building a powerhouse clean energy industry in the Northwest. More information on it is available at

Related Pages:
Oil Tycoon Bets on Wind by Associated Press, Capital Press, 7/27/8

Pat McCoy, staff writer
Imported Energy Drains Economy
Capital Press, July 25, 2008

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