A new House bill, gaining support among lawmakers in Boise, could spearhead the construction of renewable energy plants on Idaho’s federal lands.
If enacted, HB 500 would open up some of Idaho’s endowment lands for the capture of renewable energy such as wind, geothermal or solar rays. That power could be used to satiate Idaho’s growing energy needs or be sold to neighboring states.
“This bill has tremendous potential,” said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. “Idaho has some of the best wind availability in the nation, and we were rated top-10 in geothermal activity.”
Shortfalls in the state’s spending budget and a looming national recession prompted Anderson to look for new ways to use endowment lands.
Anderson said however the energy is used, a large part of the revenue garnered by the endeavor would stream directly to Idaho’s public schools.
Idaho’s 2.1 million acres of public school endowment lands, as well as 350,000 acres of additional endowment land for other beneficiaries, were established to generate funds for public needs when statehood was first granted in 1890.
Much of the endowment lands are now used for grazing by cattle ranchers.
Conflict could be created as cattlemen are pushed on to new pasture, but Anderson said even a fully operating geothermal plant would take up a small portion of the endowment property, and other uses could be maintained.
Other markets for the lands, such as timber and mining, have decreased over the years. And with that drop, the profitability of endowment lands have likewise diminished.
Anderson said the bill would mirror language used in the state’s 2007 energy plan and would allow the land’s use to include creating energy from fuel cells; low-impact hydro, wind, geothermal and solar energy; landfill gas, biomass or cogeneration.
If enacted, the bill would call for an inventory of the areas with the most energy-producing potential. It would also allow the state to seek out private energy contractors to build.
“There’s a lot of players out there,” Anderson said. “This is for whoever wants to come in and bid on the project.”
Whatever kind of energy is captured, the bill indicates the facility can not generate less than 25 kilowatts of electricity annually.
“This potentially could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” said Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who supports the bill.
Nonini said on Thursday the bill will be presented to the five-member State Board of Land Commissioners, which governs Idaho’s endowment lands, and is made up by the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Controller and Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“I think they’ll be very excited about this,” Nonini said.
Anderson said he has been seeking support in the House and Senate.
“Our intention is to move forward aggressively,” he said.
“It’s prudent for us to be creative as a legislature, and see there are other categories of funding that we haven’t pursued yet,” Anderson said. “If you can tap into natural resources, which we used to do, you can create economic sustainability.”
By Sean Garmire
18 February 2008
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