The House State Affairs Committee voted 11-8 Tuesday to keep House Bill 265 in committee. The bill aimed to put a two-year moratorium on the building of wind turbines in Idaho. There was no new testimony given following hearings on Friday and Monday, but members of the committee debated for about an hour.
Many of the concerns expressed by committee members centered on wind turbine policy flying in the face of market forces.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, voted to hold the bill in committee, although he does think there are things wrong with the wind energy industry. “I cannot in good conscience shut off people who have come here and invested millions of dollars after we encouraged them to do so,” adding, “we shouldn’t chase industry out of the state of Idaho like we did with coal.” Andrus also believes the main problem is the control of the market. “I think the solution is to do away with the incentives and let the free market take care of itself. We’ve encouraged these people to come to Idaho offering these incentives. Getting rid of the incentives is the answer,” he said.
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, offered a substitute motion to send the bill to the amending orders. He thinks a two-year pause is a good idea, but believes the current bill has weaknesses that need to be addressed. “I’m concerned we have severely skewed the market with these incentives and subsidies,” adding, “This market is out of control, and I do think we need a pause.”
Rep. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, agreed with Luker’s substitute motion. He compared it to a “car drifting off the road.” “I believe wind energy does have some serious issues. I like to think of wind energy policy as a car drifting off the road, with this House Bill 265 being an overcorrection.” He added, “This discussion needs to continue. Wind energy is going to have to adapt and the state is going to have to as well.”
Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, supported the motion to hold the bill in committee. Higgins believes wind energy is good for Idaho. “Wind energy is a renewable resource and doesn’t pollute like other forms of energy,” she said. “After hearing all of the testimony I don’t think it is a good idea at this time to have a two-year moratorium.”
Testimony on Monday addressed wind turbine policy defying the laws of supply and demand, the threat of a lawsuit if the moratorium was enacted and pleas from an Idaho Falls resident who said wind turbines are destroying her quality of life.
Neil Colwell, a lobbyist for Avista, said his company doesn’t need any wind energy until 2018. He believes the regulation of building wind farms is a state and federal issue due to the incentives offered for renewable energy. For example, he explained that if $60 million is invested in a qualifying wind turbine project, “the government gives you $18 million back.”
Colwell partially blames PURPA, which is the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. Meant to promote greater use of renewable energy, PURPA forces companies to buy power from more efficient producers if the cost is less than the companies’ own avoided cost. Colwell was adamant that customers come first saying, “Our concern is the customers. The problem is you have these offers you have to take to buy wind, when you don’t need it. For instance, we don’t need it at Avista until 2018.”
Colwell does believe, however, that eventually there can be more local control. “We think a timeout is a good idea. If we slow down here and get it right, we can give more local control down the road.”
Gary Allen, a land use and environmental attorney representing a wind turbine operation on Bennett Mountain, which is east of Boise, believes the proposed bill has several flaws in the way it’s written. “This is drafted with a broad prohibition,” he said. “When is a project approved? How do you know when the statute of limitations has run its course? There is a fundamental problem with this bill.”
Allen also took a shot across the committee’s bow warning, “If this bill prohibits the Idaho Wind Farm project from going forward, I don’t like to rattle my saber but I believe my clients will have a powerful regulatory takings claim.” Allen said his clients’ $250 million project would come to a “screeching halt.”
Ann Dietrich is an Idaho Falls resident who is a proponent of the moratorium. She purchased a home several years ago, her dream home. “Well, it’s my version of the American dream. I have a little bit of land, enough room for my horses,” she said. At the time she purchased her home the land was only grazing land and not zoned to build any turbines. Dietrich said she was one of the “lucky” ones to receive notice there would be wind turbines built near her home, an idea that has turned her dream home into a headache when she became aware of the possibility of wind turbines as a neighbor. She believes that the state should step in and do something for her rights as a homeowner.
“Gov. Otter wants Idaho to be the ‘Wind Capital of the West.’ That puts too much pressure on local officials.” Holding back tears she concluded, “We’re asking for your help. I may not be able to save my home and my quality of life. But, I have a voice and I don’t want to see one more Idahoan go through what I’ve gone through over this last year.”
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