The Hailey City Council approved on Monday an agreement to disclose billing information from Idaho Power Co. for nonresidential accounts in the city, to assess whether the city would be a good candidate for alternative energy projects.

    The bills will provide data to the Sun Valley Institute in Ketchum, which is working with the Idaho National Laboratory near Arco on an Energy Program to create a “local energy blueprint” model for the Wood River Valley.

    “We’re really excited about this collaboration,” said Sun Valley Institute Executive Director Aimee Christensen.

     The Sun Valley Institute is a nonprofit organization geared toward building “resilient prosperity.” It was established in the wake of the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire, the economic recession and a 2009 Christmas Eve power outage in the Wood River Valley.

    “Energy resilience means an energy system that is reliable as well as economically and environmentally beneficial,” Christensen said. “Idaho National Laboratory has some of the most advanced technology and modeling capabilities for energy infrastructure in our country. We are fortunate that they are deeply committed to supporting Idaho communities in this arena critical to our local economies. Local energy investment can reduce electricity costs, create quality year-round jobs and build a more reliable energy system to underpin our economy.”

Christensen said a primary goal of the Energy Program data collection effort would be to identify “critical loads” of electricity demand for essential city and medical services. The data could then be used to assess the feasibility of building “distributed energy resources” or “micro-grid” systems that could back up those needs in case of power line failures.

Distributed energy resources are electrical infrastructure assets that can be deployed within the existing electricity distribution grid, typically close to demand and “behind the meter,” or independent from a utility company. Advocates say they can be used to avoid infrastructure investments, improve energy resilience and increase integration of clean energy sources, such as solar power.

    A micro-grid is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously.

    Katie Bray, Energy Program manager for the institute and the lead for the blueprint project, said a primary goal of the data collection would be to create a clear and unified process for developing “on-the-ground” energy resilience projects in Blaine County. She said a first focus would be to identify critical loads of electricity demand for essential city services, including water, sewer, fire and police.

    “The data could then be used to assess the feasibility of building onsite local energy and micro-grid systems that could provide backup in case of power line failures,” Bray said. “Understanding our energy system and identifying specific critical loads and possible solutions to protect them will empower local officials and managers to make decisions about future energy investment needs, to strengthen our energy resilience.”    

    The institute has already collected the required data from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley and St. Luke’s hospital to supply the model.

    Christensen said INL has agreed to provide a case study to show how the energy blueprint model can be used to analyze and propose micro-grid or distributed energy resource solutions to secure critical loads. The case study would likely involve St. Luke’s hospital or Ketchum City Hall.

    INL is not charging the institute or cities in Blaine County for the modeling.

    “The U.S. Department of Energy funds the Idaho National Laboratory and this includes funding for local and regional support consistent with their mission and programs such as this work,” Christensen said.  

     Additionally, the Sun Valley Institute is conducting a solar assessment of the River Street Apartments in Hailey, to see whether a solar-power generation system for the building would be feasible for investors.

    “We expect to have an assessment done within the next few weeks, and that will help inform whether they will want to proceed to install solar,” Christensen said.  

    Future goals of the Energy Program include development of financing models for potential alternate energy projects and outreach to local leaders and investors.

    For more information, go to sunvalleyinstitute.org.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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