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Idaho energy office disbands wind think-tank

At a time when Idaho trails others in harnessing wind resources, the Office of Energy Resources has disbanded the state's wind-power think tank and reassigned a staff member who had focused on wind projects to work on energy efficiency instead. The staffer, Gerald Fleischman, told the Idaho Wind Power Working Group he "will no longer be able to respond to requests about wind issues and wind projects," according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

At a time when Idaho trails others in harnessing wind resources, the Office of Energy Resources has disbanded the state's wind-power think tank and reassigned a staff member who had focused on wind projects to work on energy efficiency instead.

The staffer, Gerald Fleischman, told the Idaho Wind Power Working Group he "will no longer be able to respond to requests about wind issues and wind projects," according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Fleischman said the working group was "concluded," with some of its tasks to be assumed by the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, a panel created by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to plan for the state's energy needs.

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.

Still, wind industry proponents contend Kjellander's shift will hamstring efforts to develop wind power in Idaho, which ranks 13th among states in the amount of wind power it currently can generate. Idaho has capacity of around 100 megawatts, enough to light 60,000 homes, while Washington state,... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

At a time when Idaho trails others in harnessing wind resources, the Office of Energy Resources has disbanded the state's wind-power think tank and reassigned a staff member who had focused on wind projects to work on energy efficiency instead.

The staffer, Gerald Fleischman, told the Idaho Wind Power Working Group he "will no longer be able to respond to requests about wind issues and wind projects," according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Fleischman said the working group was "concluded," with some of its tasks to be assumed by the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, a panel created by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to plan for the state's energy needs.

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.

Still, wind industry proponents contend Kjellander's shift will hamstring efforts to develop wind power in Idaho, which ranks 13th among states in the amount of wind power it currently can generate. Idaho has capacity of around 100 megawatts, enough to light 60,000 homes, while Washington state, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming and Colorado have more than 3,500 megawatts of wind energy combined.

"I don't see how we can all of a sudden decide the Wind Working Group is over and it ceases to be needed," said Brian Jackson, an Idaho wind developer and member of the group.

He's also part of the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance's wind task force, but says that group's role is different.

"The task force is really to provide insight and input to the governor," Jackson said. "The Wind Working Group is an open forum for everybody in the industry."

Thirty-six other states have wind working groups.

Fleischman, who wind developers described as a tireless industry advocate, declined to comment.

Kjellander, who took over the newly created Office of Energy Resources in 2007, said the working group "served its purpose" but that it was "important to move in a different direction." He said he wants to focus on areas where wind resources are most realistic: outside restricted wilderness, away from sensitive habitat, and near transmission corridors.

"There's no single resource that's magically going to fix our problems," Kjellander said. "Wind is part of it. But by itself, it's not going to solve our problems. We have to look at it with a holistic approach.

There are about a dozen groups represented on the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance wind task force, including utilities Idaho Power Co. and Spokane, Wash.-based Avista Corp., former regulators, and developers such as Jackson and Ridgeline Energy LLC, which is working on a 450-megawatt project near Blackfoot.

The working group, formed in 2000 as one of the nation's first working groups to promote wind energy, was much larger, something Kjellander maintains had become unwieldy.

"Sometimes, too much of a good thing is too much," he said. "With smaller groups, you tend to be able to move forward a little quicker."

He declined to give specific reasons for Fleischman's reassignment, but said the move will bolster energy efficiency efforts, possibly helping secure federal dollars for programs in Idaho.

Washington state and Oregon have renewable energy portfolio standards that require large utilities to increase their renewable energy sources.

Consequently, Washington now has 1,367 megawatts of wind capacity; Oregon has 964 megawatts, with 353 under construction. Idaho, with no renewable portfolio standard, had just 75 megawatts of capacity in November, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.

Idaho wind development was also slowed by a three-year regulatory fight between small wind power developers and utilities including Idaho Power that was resolved only last February. In addition, projects are now delayed because turbine costs have risen, making them less viable at current electricity prices.

"We're certainly aware of the increasing costs," said Gene Fadness, an Idaho Public Utilities Commission spokesman, adding the regulator soon plans to publish new electricity rates that utilities pay small wind power generators. "We're hoping ... that's going to spur some development."

John Steiner, an Oreana, Idaho-based wind-energy developer, is nearing completion of two 21-megawatt wind farms near Mountain Home, Idaho. But he's looking elsewhere to build future projects, like his 38-turbine, 64-megawatt wind farm in Oregon's Umatilla County.

Kjellander's move to end Idaho's working group won't make this state more attractive, Steiner said.

"I don't think he puts a lot of emphasis on wind," Steiner said. "He thinks, 'Well, I'll solve the state's energy problem once and for all with nuclear.'"

Kjellander, a former state Public Utilities Commission chairman who has said he wants to focus on new transmission projects and is admittedly keen on the potential for new nuclear reactors, bristled at the suggestion he aims to stall new turbines in Idaho.

"The effort with wind resource development hasn't died," he said.


Source: http://seattletimes.nwsourc...

DEC 23 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/18378-idaho-energy-office-disbands-wind-think-tank
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