Idaho’s energy future: Less coal, uncertain hydro
When you flip a light switch in Idaho, chances are the electricity came from some combination of the following: a hydroelectric plant, a natural gas plant, a wind turbine and a coal plant outside the state.
Hydropower satisfies roughly half of Idaho’s electricity demand. Coal-fired plants in Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Montana pitch in another 35 percent. A handful of natural gas plants and hundreds of wind turbines make up most of the remainder.
But due to climate change, the equation is changing. This shift is related to new federal regulations intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions, experts say, forcing utilities to invest in cleaner energy sources. At the same time, Idaho’s biggest source of zero-emission energy, hydropower, is itself under threat from climate change due to diminished snowpacks and river flows.
Idaho generates a larger percentage of its energy from hydropower than any state but Washington.
“The fact is, Idaho’s electricity portfolio is changing,” said Ken Miller, energy program director for the Snake River Alliance. “Utilities aren’t very nimble, but they’re finding that in order to survive, they need to adjust.”
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