Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bellevue told wind power won’t work

Idaho Power warns against small-scale generators

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Power Co. representative Randy Allphin presented sobering news to the Bellevue City Council on Thursday about the prospect of harnessing wind energy for electrical generation.

"The wind itself just isn't here," Allphin said.

Council Chairman Chris Koch had invited Allphin to speak on the topic following a November decision by the Hailey City Council to allow the use of small wind turbines for use in parts of the city. The Blaine County Commission passed a similar ordinance last week.

Allphin said cheap rates offered by Idaho Power were "both a blessing and a curse"—a blessing to those wanting to pay less, but a curse to those seeking economic returns by using alternative energy systems.

Yet some in the Wood River Valley are ready to gamble on wind power's future. If they are successful in harnessing the power, Idaho Power is mandated to buy what they don't use at the going market rate.

Hailey Planner Mariel Platt had said that in Hailey, where average wind speeds range up to 14 mph at different locations across the city, a household turbine in areas where winds average 6-12 mph could cover one-fifth to one-third of average household electrical needs.

Allphin said wind turbines are "exponentially" more effective the higher they are mounted from the ground. Hailey's ordinance allows turbines up to 10 feet above maximum building height levels. The Blaine County wind power ordinance allows for wind turbines of up to 40 feet above ground. In agricultural zones, freestanding turbines can range up to 120 feet tall.

Allphin said wind developers should consider additional costs of cables, guy wires and AC/DC inverters, which he said would make the technology unfeasible in this area.

"People don't do it only for economic reasons," Allphin said. "They also do it because they think it's the right thing to do."

Power Engineers, an electrical generation and transmission company based in the Woodside subdivision of Hailey, announced plans last month to erect a freestanding, 30-foot-tall "wind spire"-type turbine to showcase the technology.

The project could also settle the debate over how much wind is blowing in the Wood River Valley, and whether it is enough to provide a reliable source of electrical power.

Tony Evans:

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