Friday, July 25, 2014

Panel discusses energy, new power line

Ketchum holds first in a series of energy ‘town halls’

Express Staff Writer

    The city of Ketchum held the first of a series of “town hall” meetings to discuss energy issues on Tuesday, with much of the focus on a planned new power line through the Wood River Valley.
    Members of the Ketchum Energy Advisory Committee (KEAC) comprised a panel to discuss local energy consumption, alternative energy sources and Idaho Power Co.’s plan to put in a redundant transmission line from the Wood River Substation in Hailey to Idaho Power’s station in Ketchum.
    Speakers included Aimee Christensen, CEO of Christensen Global Strategies; Karen McCall, local environmental activist; Alan Richardson, former president and CEO of American Public Power Association; and Rick LeFaivre, member of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The panelists were among members of the KEAC and Wood River Renewable Energy Working Group, a partnership formed earlier this year by Idaho Power.
    Besides the redundant line, the committee presented a variety of renewable energy possibilities, including hydropower, solar power, wind energy and geothermal energy.
    “We were there to present possibilities for the future,” McCall said in a phone interview.
    A large percentage of Idaho Power’s power mix comes from coal, over 41 percent. The largest fuel resource for the company is hydroelectric power, at just over 50 percent.
    “$34 million a year leaves the valley for power costs,” Christensen said.
    Another strike against Blaine County is its high electricity usage, studies indicate. The county’s average consumption clocks in at almost 20,000 kilowatts per hour, while the national average is just over 12,000. Ketchum and Sun Valley drive the number up, with kilowatt numbers in the low and mid-30,000s, respectively. For natural gas, Sun Valley’s average usage is over 3.5 times the national average.   
    “It’s not particularly efficient on a per-person basis,” Christensen said.
    Idaho Power in May formally applied to Blaine County for approval of the second line, proposing a 138-kilovolt line as a way to stave off outages in the north valley if the existing line between Hailey and Ketchum is damaged or malfunctions. It would likely be above ground between the Hailey substation and St. Luke’s hospital, and then underground into Ketchum. The line would take "a couple of years" to build, said Lynette Berriochoa, a spokeswoman for Idaho Power. Richens said the current line is 62 years old and would be extremely expensive to rebuild. Since Ketchum residents likely wouldn’t want new power poles going through town, Idaho Power would need to bury the cables—which would cost about 10 times as much as leaving them above ground. The cost differential would need to be paid by residents. The cost would be about $230 per $100,000 dollars of property value, according to Richins.
    The proposed new line is not needed for extra power: the existing line has more than enough capacity to service Ketchum. It is considered a security measure to prevent an enduring—and likely costly—power outage in Ketchum and Sun Valley and the resort facilities therein.
    “It’s purely for the occasion when the line goes out and they can’t repair it fast enough,” McCall said.
    That’s what happened during Christmas of 2009, when system damage caused transmission lines to go down on Christmas Eve. Ice buildup was the cause, according to a 2009 Idaho Power report, on the Midpoint-Wood River line. Weather difficulties in pinpointing the exact location of the failure made the outage last longer, with some residents not regaining power until the morning of Dec. 26.
    Audience members pointed out that digital signaling on the power line could have also prevented the delayed response, and Vern Porter, Idaho Power’s vice president of delivery engineering and construction, said that the company has upgraded its technology since 2009 by putting in sensors.
    Because the 2009 outage occurred south of the Wood River substation, the outage still would have occurred with a redundant line in the northern Wood River Valley.
    “An outage on the single line serving the North Valley could result in a similar large-scale outage,” according to a pamphlet called “Electrical Needs in the Wood River Valley” put out by Idaho Power.
    McCall said the next meeting will discuss alternative energy ideas for Ketchum in greater detail, including a micro-grid solar proposal.
    The relationship between the KEAC and Idaho Power is integral to continued discussions on both energy reliability and sustainability, McCall said.
    “We want people to look at both perspectives,” she said.

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