Local interest in tapping wind or solar energy to power homes has not waned during the recession, local installers and Idaho Power officials say.
Small wind turbines — those suitable for homes or small businesses — in particular as a business has picked up significantly the past year as prices for these smaller units have dropped, according to Idaho Power renewable energy specialist Scott Gates. A year ago, five wind turbines were connected to Idaho Power’s grid, but that number has since ballooned to about 30. With federal incentives, the cost of smaller wind or solar systems has dropped to about $10,000 — a magic number for many consumers — Gates, said.
Overall, the price of a typical residential wind or solar system has been cut in half in the past year, Gates added. He attributes the sharp decline in prices primarily to technological advances and growing competition in the world’s expanding solar manufacturing industry.
Idaho Power currently has about 130 net metered customers tapping solar power in its jurisdiction, which stretches from eastern Idaho across southern Idaho. That is up from just a handful of residential solar systems reported five years ago.
Despite growing interest, Butch Gilliland, owner of Norfleet Developments, a Caldwell company that specializes in green building and energy efficiency, said it is still premature for most people to invest in home solar or wind systems. It can cost as much as $100,000 to install a system that would cover all the power needs for a 1,200-square-foot home, he said.
“Solar is just not ready yet,” Gilliland said. “There are better ways if people are interested in saving money. The best thing to do right now is to get your house energy efficient.”
Solar installers keep busy
Dave Brueggemann, solar installer and president of Solar Cascade in Boise, said he got more work in the first six weeks of 2009 than he did in all of the previous year after Congress passed a 30 percent rebate incentive for renewable energy systems.
Still, Brueggemann and other local installers say these systems have not gained as much traction as they have in neighboring states that offer aggressive incentives at the state level.
“Our industry has grown a lot here, but nothing like the places that have rebates” like Washington and Oregon, Brueggemann said. “And yes, we have some of the cheapest power in the nation in Idaho, but I think we’re on the tail end of inexpensive power.”
Idaho Power renewable energy specialist Scott Gates also attributes the lack of a state mandate encouraging the utility to diversify its energy sources among consumers as the primary reason Idaho lags behind some of its neighbors.
“I don’t see much opposition within the company, it’s just a matter of how do we do it, how do we get this done,” Gates said. “But I have been surprised by the growth for solar and wind in a state that really has no incentives for it and also has some of the cheapest power in the nation.”
Finding the money to pay for installation has proven a challenge for many people interested in solar or wind, installers like Jeff Burns, owner of Renewable Energy Resources in Boise, said.
“We have been affected in the sense that people virtually cannot get financing and lots of deals go out the door because people can’t get a line of credit,” Burns said. “But the true believers are still out there.”
State officials look beyond hydro
Paul Kjellander, director of Idaho’s Office of Energy Resources, said the state’s overwhelming dependence on hydroelectric power is nearing the end of the line.
The cost of power in Idaho remains among the lowest in the country today, though Idaho lags behind neighboring states in tapping alternatives like wind and solar.
Nampa Sen. Curt McKenzie, co-chairman of the state’s interim energy commission, said the commission is considering legislation at the state level to offer incentives for utilities like Idaho Power to further diversify their energy portfolio. But he does not foresee any direct incentives to be introduced at the state level for consumers.
“I don’t anticipate we’ll have any kind of tax reduction incentives in this session just because of the way the budget it is — it’s not a year when you’re going to see a reduction in the tax base. But there are different ways we can encourage that, especially from the utility side. If utilities can have rate recovery for capital investments and different programs for things like implementing a smart grid, it can have a pretty dramatic effect on residential consumption, and that we can do without cutting the tax base.”
Kjellander said hydro will likely maintain its dominance in powering utilities like Idaho Power for at least the next 10 to 15 years. But with little to no future expansion plans for hydro, Idaho Power’s most recent acquisitions have been in natural gas and wind turbines, he said.
Jesse Nance. Idaho Press Tribune – http://www.idahopress.com/news/?id=26939