Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our community can choose its energy future


s chair of the Ketchum Energy Advisory Committee, I was pleased to see the story covering our first in a series of energy “town hall” meetings. Energy is critical to our economy and quality of life in the Wood River Valley. We face risks that must be addressed as well as renewable energy and energy-efficiency opportunities that can save money for homes and businesses.
    The town hall series, “KetchEmpower: Taking Charge of our Energy Future,” is intended to provide a forum to discuss the energy-related security, economic, grid failure and environmental issues facing our community. Our risks include power outages, price increases and reliance on out-of-state coal power (currently about 40 percent). Opportunities include greater energy efficiency, local renewable energy generation, local energy storage and micro grids, which will all increase our reliability, create local jobs and align our electricity system with community values of protecting our environment.
    As we have seen with recent power outages, including the extended one on Christmas Eve 2009, the valley’s electricity system is not as secure or resilient as it could be. However, all our sustained unplanned outages—including Christmas Eve 2009—occurred due to failure of both the transmission lines south of the Hailey substation.  A second line north would not have prevented those.
    The city of Ketchum has requested that Idaho Power provide a risk-benefit and options analysis so the second line is not considered in a vacuum, with no alternatives. We recognize that the line was evaluated in depth seven years ago. But technological advances since then suggest the need for an updated evaluation of this line from both a cost and reliability perspective. Future town hall meetings will delve in depth into the line and alternatives.
    The next KetchEmpower town hall will focus on solar energy opportunities because technological improvements and decreasing costs of solar are revolutionizing the energy world, creating exciting opportunities for our community to really put the “sun” in Sun Valley. Solar can provide both electricity and hot water, directly in a home or business (there are over 60 systems already installed in our valley), at a community scale or at utility scale. At future town hall meetings, we will hear about grant programs that help pay for solar systems, as well as financing options to remove the barrier of what can be significant upfront costs and possible opportunities for community solar.  With solar’s price drops, payback can now occur in as few as seven or eight years for some in the valley. What other power source is free within such a short period of time, or any period of time?
    We look forward to future town halls to get input on options and priorities in this dynamic time in energy.

Aimee Christensen, founder and CEO of Christensen Global Strategies, is a member of the Ketchum Energy Advisory Committee.

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