Blaine County was the first community in Idaho to undertake a planning effort aimed at addressing the effects of climate change when it held its first community workshop in Hailey in December. A second workshop was held Monday at the Community Campus.

The effort is organized by the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research and originated from the Idaho Climate Summit in 2017. The workshops were organized by Blaine County and hosted by the Sun Valley Institute and Boise-based Warm Springs Consulting. The county provided $23,000 to fund the efforts, while the city of Ketchum supplied $3,000.

The workshop Monday posed the question, what actions should be taken?

The answers were supplied by eight working groups consisting of elected officials, residents, government employees, nonprofit representatives and many others.

Each group honed in on a specific project:

  • Implementing green building codes and practices valleywide;
  • Constructing a clean-energy, battery storage-based microgrid for St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center;
  • Working with Idaho Power to build a community solar project in the Wood River Valley;
  • Supporting the production of locally sourced foods, and promoting creation of a community education space devoted to local food;
  • Promoting sustainable agriculture methods that increase the water-holding capacity in soils in the Wood River Valley;
  • Promoting a year-round economy;
  • Spurring more regional collaboration among local governments;
  • And creating more “local” housing—both deed-restricted affordable housing as well as workforce housing—and dispelling myths that this type of housing reduces neighbors’ property values.

The key question remaining is how each project would be paid for. The groups identified a series of possibilities.

The microgrid for the hospital would be a source of backup power in case the main electrical grid failed during an outage. Currently, the hospital relies on diesel generators that only support operations needed to treat life-threatening illnesses or injuries during an outage.

The microgrid could provide a power boost to support operations beyond that in case of an outage, said Wendolyn Holland, a Sun Valley Institute board member. It would consist of a 125-kilowatt solar energy project that would provide energy to the hospital while the grid was up or down, battery storage that could be tapped during an outage and diesel generators.

Grants, tax credits, investors and other sources could help pay for the project.

Idaho Power originally proposed a community solar project in the Treasure Valley in 2016. The project struggled to attract subscribers, and was never built. The utility is asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to discontinue the project, which was estimated to cost $1.2 million.

However, Idaho Power Senior Manager Dave Angell said the utility wants to try again in the Wood River Valley.

That will depend on two things—land and subscribers. Angell said land owned by the state government or the county government is a possibility; the project would be paid for through subscribers.

“We tried a project in Boise and it didn’t do too well,” he said. “We want to do one here. We need some land.”

Former Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said regional collaboration among government agencies should increase. The working group proposed an office that could be housed within Blaine County government and would work with cities from Stanley to Shoshone.

“This office would address all of the regional issues that we face with climate change,” Schoen said.

He said a white paper would be created detailing funding sources and the proposed structure for the new office.

By constructing more local housing, Sun Valley Institute Executive Director Aimée Christensen said, the Wood River Valley could cut down on carbon emissions connected with commuting.

Hailey City Councilwoman Kaz Thea encouraged the group and the public to continue the conversation at a town hall meeting to be hosted by the city at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 18, in the Minnie Moore Room at the Community Campus.

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