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Clean Energy Works in Idaho

As the Clean Power Plan moves forward, and states begin to discuss how they’ll develop their plans to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) goals for reducing carbon emissions, it’s worth asking: What’s the discussion been like in certain states?

Here in Idaho, the state has engaged the Governor’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) to lead efforts to understand how the Clean Power Plan will affect Idaho businesses and citizens. The OER has worked to outline state concerns to the EPA; primarily, the state does not believe the federal government has jurisdiction to require the state to meet the targets and if they do, that we should be able to utilize our existing hydroelectric resources to meet our goals.

It appears that Idaho has determined they will have to comply and has started to develop a state plan to meet the targets set by EPA. This is the smart course of action; states should be preparing to take on this challenge, because not coming up with a plan means having one forced on us by the federal government.

The good news is that current projections, without the Clean Power Plan, say Idaho is likely to hit the target due to our high penetration of renewables like hydropower, wind, and solar; lack of coal generation; and aggressive energy efficiency goals. Idaho’s energy mix is incredibly well-balanced, with 82 percent of our net electricity generation coming from renewable energy resources, most of that from hydroelectric power—and the fifth lowest average electricity prices in the United States to show for it.

Idaho is a member of the Northwest Energy and Conservation Council, whose recent Power Plan for the Northwest - Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho - indicates that all new regional demand can be met with energy efficiency, renewable energy, and storage replacing retiring coal plants.

The major utilities are already on a glide path away from out of state coal generation, with one plant (Oregon’s Boardman plant) already set to be retired, and another (the Valmy plant in Nevada) likely to join it.

What’s going to replace them? Well, the replacement plants will likely include renewable energy as well as gas plants. These efforts have broad popular support with high solar favorability and great solar resource in Southern Idaho. We’ve already seen proof that we can increase renewable energy adoption and keep energy rates low for consumers, and we’ve proved that states can take steps to comply with the Clean Power Plan without hurting growth.

The Idaho Clean Energy Association is leading industry efforts to maximize renewable energy penetration and energy efficiency efforts and looks forward to helping Idaho continue to be one of the lowest carbon emitting states in the Union. Going forward, though, states need to be smarter about how they respond to moves like the Clean Power Plan. Idaho is proof that we can change our energy mix to reduce carbon emissions and still protect consumers and businesses.

Leif Elgethun is a partner and co-founder of Intermountain Energy Partners and the president of the Idaho Clean Energy Association.