“Idaho?!” was exclaimed a few days ago on the April 8 episode of one of my favorite podcasts, “Political Climate,” taped live at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. The hosts shared their happy surprise that Idaho Power had recently announced they would be supplying customers with 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Just a week after Idaho Power’s announcement, the city of Boise announced its plan to reach 100 percent renewable by 2035, led by City Council President Lauren McLean and Public Works Director Steve Burgos. As residents of our beautiful state know, too often outsiders are surprised by examples of Idaho’s leadership, but get ready for a lot more. The momentum is palpable, and our community has played a key role in getting us here.
When announcing the new goal, Idaho Power’s CEO Darrell Anderson said that their customers want renewable energy. Our Blaine County neighbors, residents and political leaders have long fought for a clean, resilient energy future. Ketchum resident, naturalist and author Kerrin McCall has been researching, writing on and advocating for local renewable energy for years. At the 2009 Idaho Power annual meeting, mid-valley resident Kiki Tidwell drove the submission for a vote on a shareholder resolution for the company to address climate change—and won. In 2012, Kerrin, then-Ketchum City Council member Nina Jonas, Sagebrush Solar founder Billy Mann (now AltEnergy), engineer Andy Castellano, former American Public Power Association CEO Alan Richardson, former Apple innovation executive Rick LeFaivre, I and others started gathering to work on local renewable energy development. The group initiated a community solar project, improved Blaine County’s solar permitting rules, presented at the 2013 Sun Valley Economic Summit and testified for Idaho-grown clean energy at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
When Nina Jonas was elected mayor in late 2013, Idaho Power acknowledged local interest and offered to create a Wood River Renewable Energy Working group to collaboratively develop the first 100 percent renewable-energy product, currently progressing a potential community solar project. In early 2014, Mayor Jonas and the Ketchum City Council launched the Ketchum Energy Advisory Committee (KEAC), hosting energy town halls, installing Ketchum’s Ore Wagon Museum cost-saving solar system, and in March of 2015 the city adopted energy goals including 100 percent renewable energy for municipal operations by 2030. That same month, KEAC welcomed Idaho Power to help build Ketchum’s resilient energy future at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Innovation Lab.
At the 2014 Idaho Technology Council Energy Conference, I presented on what 100 percent renewable energy could mean for the state’s economy, with its vast resources and Idaho National Laboratory’s expertise, an opportunity that Idaho
couldn’t afford to miss and surrounding states like Wyoming and Utah were grabbing with both hands. In 2016, the Sun Valley Institute launched Solarize Blaine, and in just 20 weeks, residents and businesses installed five times the amount of solar as the previous year; in 2017 and 2018, the Institute partnered with Idaho National Laboratory to develop plans for our local grid’s security for critical infrastructure like fire, police and medical; and this past fall, at our Idaho’s Energy Opportunity events in Boise and Idaho Falls, speakers from the Paulson Institute, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Power and Power Engineers addressed packed audiences of mayors, city council members, county commissioners, state legislators, Idaho state government officials, regional economic organizations and private sector leaders, as well as concerned citizens. We published a companion piece on Idaho’s Energy Opportunity: “Resilience in Idaho Business Review.”
Success has many parents, but our community members’ dedication and leadership deserve thanks. Together, we look forward to accelerating our clean-energy future for lasting quality of place here, across Idaho, and far beyond.
Sun Valley resident Aimee Christensen is the executive director of the Sun Valley Institute.