As long as people have been here, the Northwest has been a place of great natural resources available for human use. Some of those resources are less obvious than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re less valuable.
The earliest travelers through the region, the Native Americans and eventually people from the east along the Oregon Trail, took clear note of many characteristics of the Idaho region – like the blazing sun, the blustering winds shooting across the desert plains, the roar of the rivers cut into deep canyons. For them, such things were more obstacle, annoyance or even hazard than they were anything else. They were conditions to march through and get behind them.
But the sun and the wind and the rivers all have turned out to be massive resources of immense value – commercial and financial value on top of everything else.
The rivers were recognized that way first, initially as sources for irrigation water, but not long after as generators of electric power. Questions of water use and power manufacturing – the context of the time – were subjects of discussion as long ago as at Idaho’s constitutional convention.
Now, more than a century later, the sun and the wind are beginning to be recognized for the powerful natural resources they are.
We see the vast wind farms whenever we travel around the state, especially around southern Idaho. When I lived in eastern Idaho I often felt the winds sharply and it was one of the characteristics of the place I might have changed if I could. Now, wind turbine farms, found in many scattered locations across the southern part of the state, are turning what once seemed to me an annoyance into juice and profits, and undergirding an important part of the economic development of the area. In the last few years I’ve made a practice of retracing some back routes – away from the interstates and busier roads – and I’ve been consistently struck by how extensive wind power development in the region has become. (Not just in Idaho, of course; I could say something similar about much of the northwest.)
Wind power is of course not the only major resource Idaho is newly able to tap.
The largest solar energy farm in the Northwest may be built soon in the relatively remote and barely populated desert. Recent news reports about a project by Alternative Power Development, which is based in Boise, point to a massive new solar development not far from the northern side of the Nevada border some miles from Jackpot. The land is owned by the J.R. Simplot company, and would be leased from it.
If the reported development follows through as planned about 120 megawatts of electricity would come online about three years from now. That one development, in other words, probably would supply enough juice for somewhere around 60,000 to 80,000 homes.
If the project works as planned, you can reasonably expect more like it to pop up across Idaho’s vast wide open spaces.
Idaho Power is slated to buy the Jackpot-area electricity, as it is more or less required to do under the law. But the law doesn’t have to twist Idaho Power’s arm; the utility has been moving steadily in recent years toward more use of renewable power (that would also include its use of Snake River hydropower), including solar and wind. Over time, that should keep some of the lower power rates in the nation low for even longer.
The blazing sun and the blustery wind are annoyances no more. They are becoming key components of Idaho’s natural resource mix.