By KERRIN MCCALL
Idaho Power’s 138kV redundant transmission line proposed to be constructed between Hailey and Ketchum is a superfluous display of redundant expense and antiquated thinking lodged in the corporate-utility power structure that is losing its century-old grasp on electrical power production as myriad alternatives offer communities the opportunity to become increasingly energy self-reliant through onsite, distributed energy production and reliable battery storage.
As Idaho Power presses our community to accept this transmission line, residents will benefit by understanding a few key points.
1. The existing Hailey-to-Ketchum line supplies electricity to residents and businesses in the north valley, north of East Fork to the SNRA. By Idaho Power’s accounts, the company has taken “extraordinary measures to maintain its dependability” and the line has an “excellent record of reliability.” In the last 30 years (stats available to 2010), the line has had only eight outages, four for less than 5 minutes and four sustained—the longest being 148 minutes. From 2007-2010, there were no outages.
2. The 2009 Christmas outage was the result of the failure of two transmission lines that feed the Hailey-to-Ketchum line. The Midpoint line failed as a result of icing, which with Smart Grid technology could have been detected before the damage occurred, resulting in transferring the load to the redundant King line, which failed as a result of faulty splicing and failed maintenance. In this instance, redundancy in the form of another transmission line failed to keep the lights on.
3. Idaho Power states that the proposed Hailey-to-Ketchum redundant line is not needed for capacity now or in the future. However, in their presentations, Idaho Power fails to clearly distinguish between the south valley, where additional capacity may be needed, and the north valley. The Wood River Electrical Plan misleads residents into thinking additional capacity is necessary. The company’s data on north valley peak loads show New Year’s Eve 2007 was the historic peak with 64 megawatts, or 53.5 percent, of capacity. Average peak load for the north valley 2007-2010 was between 39.2 percent and 37.5 percent, dropping each successive year as energy conservation is increasing.
4. The current cost in 2013 dollars for the proposed line is $21 million with $14 million of that amount to underground the line through Ketchum to the substation on Sun Valley Road. The overhead line is paid by Idaho Power customers statewide. The underground portion would be paid by the line’s users (Gimlet to the SNRA) at a rate of approximately $230 per $100,000 of property value.
More than 50 percent of our electricity in the Wood River Valley is sourced from environmentally disruptive coal and is imported from other states. Building another power line from Hailey to Ketchum might ensure us with reliable power but it would also assure a continued supply of electricity from coal.
There are alternatives to a redundant transmission line. Distributed power, or “micropower,” is consumer-driven, small-scale power generation technologies located close to where the energy is used. Generating power on site eliminates the costs, inefficiencies and complexity associated with centralized transmission/distribution, creating energy self-reliance and security while responsibly addressing climate change.
Energy expert Amory Lovins writes: “Distributed generation means a redundant, resilient, secure infrastructure—that’s why military bases and hospitals have their own power plants.” A hindrance to micropower exists within the power structure of the utilities and the edict for corporations to maximize profits for the shareholders. Micropower puts utilities at a higher risk of losing revenue because the consumer basically has free access to the power source. The new energy world, where electrons are sourced locally, could be an answer to our energy crisis and why the big utilities are fighting hard to keep business as usual.
Our community has an opportunity to explore abundant natural resources—wind, solar, geothermal and biomass—to provide a sustainable and secure means of producing renewable energy. Money spent on local energy stays in the community tax base, as can be seen from Minnesota to Denmark to Germany. Communities and countries developing renewable energy and manufacturing parts for the energy technology of the future are seeing the seeds of strength in their economy while establishing a viable future for younger generations. It’s time to empower our valley with energy self-reliance.
Kerrin McCall lives in Ketchum.