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Electrifying the Wood River Valley
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Tuesday, November 14, 2023
 

STORY BY SARAH WHITE

PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Electrification is an evolution of infrastructure. It means replacing natural gas, fuel oil, propane or coal processes with electric technologies.

The benefits are countless, including cleaner homes through reduced air pollution and lower utility bills. However, in order to really turn the dial, we need to decarbonize. This means the energy used to power electrical technologies is derived from renewable sources of electricity.

While electrification is not synonymous with decarbonization, Idaho is blessed with an abundance of renewable resources available to make living a life without fossil fuels a reality.

In Idaho, renewable energy produces 75% of total in-state electricity production, ranking among the lowest electricity costs in the nation. Hydropower provides just over half of renewable energy production, and solar power, wind, and geothermal energy add growing contributions.

The Wood River Valley has been tapping into its local natural resources for centuries. In 1887, Hailey was the first municipality in the Idaho territory to produce electricity with water diverted from the Big Wood River, generating hydroelectric power at a site located at the end of West Silver Street.

During this time hot springs in Hailey and Ketchum were used to heat commercial hot springs, as well as homes and businesses. Oddly enough, none of these buildings use geothermal any more aside from the Warm Springs neighborhood in Ketchum.

So, what happened? After renovations, developers opted for the more convenient sources of energy with lower up-front costs: natural gas and coal.

As a state, Idaho is blessed with beautiful rivers, stunning mountains, and rolling windswept plains. The abundance of natural resources in this state is profound. And yet, we are still importing natural gas and other fossil fuels from out of state.

In order to increase the self-reliance of Idaho and continue lowering our electricity costs, we ought to be tapping into the long-term cost-effective resources that are available to us locally.

In the Wood River Valley alone, we have the opportunity to tap into more renewable energy. With over 200 days of sunshine a year, it seems we are missing out on a bright opportunity. Whether it be community solar projects, agrivoltaics (solar panels providing shade for animals or crops) or home rooftop systems, solar could be another source of abundant energy that supports the goal of a decarbonized, more energy-independent and resilient Idaho.

Our Mountain Rides and school bus fleets could continue to be electrified to reduce emissions and operating costs. Thermal energy networks can tap readily accessible geothermal energy from the ground for heating and cooling 24/7.

As a community, Blaine County waits on government officials to make renewable energy projects more accessible in the valley. However, as individual homeowners, we can shift a lot of things in our own houses to create more efficient, healthier homes. While upgrading to electric appliances, vehicles, solar or energy storage can require significant upfront costs, there is an abundance of financial incentives and rebates to ease the transition into electrification, and these systems often offer long-term savings on fuel and operating costs. These incentives are made available to homeowners and businesses alike.

The Climate Action Coalition will host a panel discussion from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at The Community Library in Ketchum.

Local experts will share information on how citizens of the Wood River Valley can take steps towards a cleaner, more efficient home. The panelists will also provide information on how to access the tax credits and rebates to make electrification affordable. Whether you are a renter, home owner, builder, or service provider, this conversation will surely be educational for all.

Editor’s note: Sarah White is an elementary school teacher at Sun Valley Community School and an active member of the Climate Action Coalition.

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