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How Idaho Agriculture is Embracing Clean Energy

Clean energy is nothing new in Idaho agriculture. The major sector in Idaho’s economy has been exploring biodigesters and other energy saving practices into its operations. Digester Doc is a Boise-based business spotlighted by Boise State Public Radio back in 2022 for its biodigester services and innovation.

As Bannock County considers a total ban on solar energy on March 26, it’s worth noting the importance of clean energy, including solar, to Idaho’s farm and ranch owners. 

Here are some examples of how Idaho agriculture is leveraging clean energy:

  • Biodigesters: Biodigesters are increasingly being adopted on Idaho farms to convert organic waste materials, such as manure, into biogas, which can be used as a renewable energy source for electricity generation or heating. Biodigesters not only help in waste management, but also provide a sustainable energy source.
  • Solar Power: Many farms in Idaho are installing solar panels to harness solar energy and offset their electricity consumption. Solar power is particularly advantageous in Idaho due to its abundant sunlight, allowing farmers to reduce reliance on grid electricity and lower their carbon footprint.
  • Wind Power: Wind energy is another clean energy source being utilized in Idaho agriculture. Wind turbines are installed on farms to generate electricity, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions. Farmers may partner with wind energy companies to lease their land for wind turbine installations, providing additional income that helps keep family farms intact.
  • Hydroelectric Power: Idaho has significant hydroelectric resources, and some agricultural operations are situated in areas where they can harness hydroelectric power. Small-scale hydroelectric systems, such as micro-hydro turbines, can provide sustainable energy for irrigation pumps, helping farmers reduce reliance on diesel-powered pumps and lowering operating costs.

Some ways that Idaho farmers and ranchers are becoming more energy efficient in their operations and reducing energy consumption include:

  • Upgrading to energy-efficient equipment such as pumps, motors, and irrigation systems, which can significantly reduce energy usage in agricultural operations.
  • Implementing precision agriculture techniques, such as GPS-guided tractors and drones, to optimize planting, fertilization, and irrigation practices, thereby minimizing energy inputs.
  • Retrofitting buildings and facilities with insulation, energy-efficient lighting, and HVAC systems to improve energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling costs.
  • Adopting practices like no-till farming and crop rotation, which can improve soil health and water retention, reducing the energy required for irrigation.

Some farms in Idaho are even exploring biofuel production from agricultural crops such as corn, sorghum, or switchgrass. Biofuels can serve as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation and heating purposes, offering a sustainable energy source while supporting local agricultural economies.

According to information from the Department of Energy on Idaho’s use of biofuels and their benefits, 85% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources. The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) aims to bolster Idaho’s position as a frontrunner in renewable transportation fuels.

Most of Idaho’s use of petroleum is due to transportation. As of 2012, Idaho’s transportation sector represented nearly 80% of all petroleum consumed in the state. Idaho’s transportation sector spent $3.8 billion on petroleum in 2013 alone.

Transitioning to biofuels holds economic promise and offers environmental benefits. Advanced biofuels have the potential to slash greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% compared to petroleum. Idaho is already making strides in biofuel production, having produced 1.2 million barrels of ethanol and 120,000 barrels of biodiesel in 2012. These figures surpass the energy content of the 750,000 barrels of jet fuel consumed by Idaho that same year. With investments in bio-based jet fuel production, Idaho could catalyze more sustainable aviation practices in the Northwest.

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) plays a pivotal role in advancing bioenergy technologies. Through initiatives like the Feedstock Process Demonstration Unit (PDU), INL collaborates with government, industry, and academia to evaluate novel feedstock processing technologies, facilitating the production of high-value biofuels.

Idaho’s renewable energy sector would benefit from leaning into innovative bioenergy technologies. By reducing dependence on imported petroleum products, the state can fortify its energy security while fostering economic development and environmental sustainability. Through energy efficient practices and embracing clean energy, farmers and ranchers can reduce their carbon footprint, lower operating costs, and increase American energy independence, contributing to a more sustainable agricultural sector in Idaho.

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