Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho’s Energy Supply Isn’t So Clean After All

Michael Smith / Newsmakers

Wyoming's Jim Bridger Power Plant is a significant source of electricity for Idaho Power.

Idaho utilities and wind developers are squaring off over the wind industry’s future in the state, as StateImpact explained last month.  As part of that reporting, we’ve rolled out stories on Idaho’s electricity supply, including this one on in-state electricity sources.

Hydroelectricity accounts for nearly 80 percent of in-state electricity generation, it shows.  While that’s true, it prompted the Idaho Conservation League’s Ben Otto to send the email equivalent of a friendly finger wag.  I’d left out part of the story, he said.

Which part?  Well, the significant detail that not all of the electricity consumed in Idaho comes from in-state sources. 

In fact, 56 percent of the electricity used in Idaho in 2007 was imported, the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance says, and 80 percent of Idaho’s total energy supply comes from out of state.

“This is a pet peeve of mine,” Otto said, when I called him to follow up.  “It’s hard to get information indicating that we’re operating in a regional system.”  And it’s important to look at that total supply, he said, in order to have an accurate view of the underlying resources on which Idahoans rely for electricity.

Nearly 80 percent of the electricity generated within state boundaries may be hydroelectricity, Otto explained, but Idahoans also rely heavily on coal.  As StateImpact has pointed out, Idaho Power gets electricity from three out-of-state, coal-fired power plants.

To Otto, this is an important fact, and one that can’t be overlooked.  After all, he’s focused on clean energy.  And it’s hard to get people — regular folks like you and me — thinking about our own energy use if we’re operating under the misconception that our lights are largely powered by renewable hydroelectricity.

“One of the things about energy is it’s not very obvious where it comes from or where it goes,” Otto said, summing up what is no doubt a central difficulty of his work.  “Idahoans might say, ‘We don’t have any [coal power].’  But we do!  And there’s a conversation we should have about these policies.”


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