Transforming arid farmland into land yielding clean power and jobs, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter joined executives of GE (NYSE: GE) and its partners to celebrate the start of construction of the state’s largest wind power project, 8 miles from the Oregon Trail where American pioneers pushed westward across the continent.
“The renewable energy industry is breathing new life into the Idaho frontier”
The governor – joined by project investors GE Energy Financial Services, Reunion Power, Exergy Development Group and Atlantic Power Corp. (TSX:ATP, NYSE:AT) – signed a turbine blade in Bliss to celebrate the new jobs and economic development this project is bringing to the area. The 183-megawatt, 122-turbine project comprises 11 wind farms, spread across 10,000 acres of active and inactive farmland in southern Idaho’s Magic Valley. The valley was a predominant migration route as part of the Oregon Trail in the 19th century, and is becoming a critical renewable energy corridor in the 21st century.
The wind energy project, initiated by Exergy Development Group and slated for completion by year’s end, is expected to create 175 construction jobs as well as permanent employment for operations and maintenance. In addition to the people employed directly, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory model estimates that a wind project of this size would typically support the equivalent of 2,200 full-time jobs in the United States for one year—about half of which would be in-state—and create 25 permanent jobs. The project also benefits the environment: It will produce enough power for 39,700 average Idaho homes and—according to US Environmental Protection Agency methodology—avoid 331,000 short tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking about 57,000 cars off the road.
“The renewable energy industry is breathing new life into the Idaho frontier,” said Gov. Otter. “We’re aggressively harnessing our abundant natural resources for growth because that helps our economy, generating not only electricity but career opportunities right here at home.”
GE Energy Financial Services, Atlantic Power, and project developer Exergy own non-managing member equity interests in the nearly $500 million Idaho Wind project. Reunion Power holds the managing member equity interest and serves as the project’s manager. The wind farms will sell all of their power to Idaho Power Company under 20-year agreements. Once completed, the portfolio is expected to qualify for the federal Treasury Grant program designed to stimulate renewable energy projects.
“While we are delighted to embark on this new renewable energy project in Idaho,” said GE Energy Financial Services President and CEO Alex Urquhart, “we are concerned that such projects will become increasingly difficult without imminent passage of federal clean energy legislation. A federal incentive backing this project, the Treasury Grant, is expiring at year’s end. Extending that program and other federal incentives would provide the long-term certainty that investors and manufacturers such as GE need to ensure continued expansion of renewable energy throughout the country.”
Construction of the Idaho project is well under way. Workers are delivering wind turbine blades, towers and other components; they are installing foundations and footings for the turbine towers, building access roads, preparing interconnection lines with Idaho Power’s grid and readying a site for a new power substation. The project will use GE’s 1.5-megawatt turbines, over 13,500 of which have been installed worldwide. In addition to supplying the turbines, GE will provide operational and maintenance services.
“We have worked long and hard with our partners, including local landowners, contractors and suppliers, to create this historic project,” said James Carkulis, president and CEO of Exergy, which conceptualized, planned and engineered the project over the last five years. “We wanted from the outset to make the right kind of difference in the lives of the people who live here, and we take great pride in our corporate responsibility, sensitivity to the local environment, and promotion of traditional Idaho and community values.”
Lisa Grow, Idaho Power’s senior vice president of Power Supply, stated: “Clean, renewable energy has been Idaho Power’s focus since its founding nearly 100 years ago. We started with hydroelectric power and, through diligent planning, have expanded into the next generation of alternative energy sources, from this new wind project to solar, geothermal and biomass. Our balanced generation portfolio is not only the environmentally responsible way of doing business but ensures we can offer our customers some of the lowest rates in the nation while providing reliable energy services.”