Northwest Renewable News

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“Green jobs” likely in Idaho, perhaps driven by more hydro power, state agency says November 20, 2009

Renewable energy is one place the state could make job gains, said the Idaho Department of Commerce.

In 2008, the U.S. Energy Information Agency ranked Idaho seventh nationally in its renewable energy generating capacity, and an Idaho Department of Labor analysis found energy sector employers paying $2.6 billion to over 49,000 workers, 12 percent of total wages and 7.5 percent of total jobs.

A $1.25 million federal grant awarded earlier this week to the Department of Labor will be used to develop detailed information on the current and future potential of jobs in the state’s power and energy industry, and in particular jobs in the area of efficient and renewable energy, also known as “green jobs.”

The Energy Information Agency profile of Idaho identifies its vast hydropower resources — the sixth largest in the nation — as the source of nearly all the state’s renewable energy capacity. Wind and wood or wood waste accounted for less than 7 percent combined.

But researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory have identified 6,700 additional hydropower sites that could potentially produce another 2,100 megawatts of electricity. That would boost Idaho’s hydro capacity by another 22 percent.

Wind remains the most likely alternative resource for development. In 2004, the federal energy agency found no notable wind generation in Idaho. Idaho has 146 megawatts of wind power operating in Idaho according to the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance Wind Task Force report.

Of that total, 64.5 megawatts, is being generated by the Wolverine Farm in southeastern Idaho”s Bingham County. Recent wind mapping indicates Idaho has about 18,000 megawatts of generation potential, the 13th highest in the United States. The southeastern part of the state has been identified as having several locations with nearby transmission lines that could support viable wind farms. Most developers require a wind classification of three or higher, and of the 75 sites in Idaho at that rating a third are in the southeast.

The natural hot springs in southeastern Idaho account for the Northwest’s first geothermal electric plant near Raft River. Operated by U.S. Geothermal Inc., it produces about 13 megawatts of electricity with a maximum capacity estimated at 110 megawatts.

Generating costs are relatively high, but technological improvements offer prospects of developing one or more of the other 24 geothermal sites in Idaho identified for the Governor‚s Geothermal Task Force in 2007.

Recently the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation announced plans for a 100-megawatt geothermal plant near Preston.

Biomass — wood products, cellulosic feedstock and byproducts from grain crops — is being evaluated throughout the state to include gases containing carbon from decomposing landfill material. But timber and grain are the focus.

Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman –


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