BOISE, Idaho – Wind energy has often been called the future of renewable power in the U.S. But that type of electrical generation is facing some tough critics.
Meanwhile, Congress is still debating whether to allow a production tax credit to continue. It expires at the end of this year and wind energy developers call it a market driver. One company that has several wind farms in southern Idaho says it could stop the industry from expanding after 2012.
In Idaho, a state lawmaker introduced a bill that would halt wind energy projects for two years. A task force will use that two-year period to determine what kind of management plan should be developed to regulate the industry.
Idaho House Bill 527 would restrict local, county and state agencies from approving or issuing new licenses or permits for wind turbine construction or operation. Those turbines being targeted are those that exceed 100-feet high or produce more than 100-kilowatts of electricity.
• Watt: It takes between 50 and 70 watts to power a typical laptop.
• Kilowatt: 1,000 watts (A typical home uses 10,000 kilowatts a year.)
• Megawatt: 1,000,000 watts (Can supply electricity to approximately 240 to 300 households per year.)
*Source: How Stuff Works
The bill would also form an eight-member task force to study the effects of wind energy. That task force would submit their report to the governor and Legislature by January 10, 2014. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Erik Simpson, says it’s possible the legislature would use that information from the task force to determine if regulations are necessary.
Rep. Erik Simpson
The Republican lawmaker tried to pass a similar bill in 2011 but it failed to get it out of committee. This year there are 12 co-sponsors including House Speaker Lawrence Denney. Representative Simpson says the wind energy companies rely too much on federal and state subsidies. A typical wind energy developer can get a federal production tax credit that amounts to 30% of the project.
Some wind farms also qualify to receive a guarantee that utilities will buy their power at a set rate. This is due to the Public Utility Regulator Policies Act of 1978. The federal law was passed by Congress to encourage companies to invest in renewable energy. But Idaho Power contends it forces the utility to buy power at a higher rate than they could get using traditional forms of electric generation. Simpson says that means utilities are forced to raise power rates.
Wind energy is also inconsistent, Simpson says, and doesn’t provide power when it’s needed. He says it’s “like asking for a cup of water and having a garden hose stuffed down your throat and turned on full blast.” There is no guarantee the wind will blow when power is needed.
There is also a concern that wind turbines kill birds. Citing issues might also be a problem for land based habitat like sage grouse.
Wind Energy Groups
Wind energy provides clean energy once the turbines are installed. They don’t send carbon emissions into the air like coal and natural gas. It’s also safer than nuclear. When companies like Suzlon Wind Energy Corp. come to a town like Bliss, Idaho, they often bring good paying jobs to an area where unemployment is high and business is scarce.
The 200 to 300 hundred employees it takes to install the large scale wind farms buy groceries, gas, food and stay at local motels. That puts taxable dollars to work in small rural towns. The resulting projects also provide power that is relatively quiet. Conversations can carry on without shouting even at a 50-foot distance from a wind turbine.
A typical wind turbine produces about 2 megawatts of power, it would take 125 to 150 wind turbines to equal a 400 megawatt natural gas power plant. Wind farms can allow a farmer to continue to plant crops.
House Bill 527 was approved for print by the House Local Government Committee on February 16, 2012. Only one representative voted against it – Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb says she felt the bill is backward. Saying a study should be done before the moratorium. The House committee will take up argument on the bill possibly next week.