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The Power of Place, Right Here in Idaho

The Idaho Energy Freedom Advisory Council recently heard from Jillian Hanson, Climate Program Manager at The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, about a groundbreaking study, Power of Place: Clean Energy Solutions that Protect People and Nature. The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the lands and waters that sustain all life while addressing the critical challenge of climate change.

In Hanson’s presentation, she introduced the Power of Place study, which explored scenarios for achieving clean energy goals by 2050 across 11 western states. 

The Nature Conservancy’s Mission

The Nature Conservancy is a global nonprofit with a presence in all 50 U.S. states. It works to address the  interconnected crises of climate change and biodiversity loss by bringing people together around the solutions our planet needs.

Hanson emphasized the Idaho chapter’s focus on natural climate solutions, such as regenerative agriculture. While renewable energy is a developingaspect of their work, they recognize that the responsible siting of clean energy projects is crucial to preserve the natural and working lands.

Power of Place: A Regional Vision

The Power of Place study used energy and land use modeling to map and analyze scenarios for achieving clean energy goals by 2050 across the 11 western states. The primary goal of the study was to investigate the land-use implications of pursuing economy-wide, net-zero emission targets by 2050. 

One of the key takeaways from the study is that clean energy development and land conservation can go hand in hand. We can achieve net-zero emissions while protecting our essential natural and working lands.

Two Scenarios Analyzed: High Electrification and Renewables Only

The study considered two main scenarios for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050: High Electrification and Renewables Only. 

The High Electrification scenario utilizes the full spectrum of clean energy technologies, such as nuclear, gas with carbon capture, biomass, hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, and more. 

The Renewables Only scenario was more limited in scope, including only solar, wind, existing hydro, geothermal, and limited biofuels.

Each scenario was examined in terms of production costs, amount of energy produced, amount of land used, amount of habitat affected, impacts to agriculture, and more. 

The Nature Conservancy identified the High Electrification scenario as the optimal path to reach net-zero emissions because it allows for a minimal increase in costs while reducing the land area required for utility-scale development.

Potential Impact in Idaho

The study finds that Idaho can develop renewable energy while avoiding impacts to natural and working lands, and that impacts can be avoided at minimal additional cost. The study suggests a footprint of approximately 300,000 acres for these projects, with solar likely playing a significant role in Idaho. Proactive planning and community engagement is essential for responsibility siting projects.

The Power of Place study offers an inspiring vision for the future. It demonstrates that with strategic planning and responsible development, we can meet our clean energy goals while preserving the values and environment we hold dear. By taking advantage of high electrification scenarios and making data-driven decisions, we can balance renewable energy development with land conservation effectively.

Challenges Facing Idaho

In Twin Falls County, the Commissioners recently enacted a moratorium on private land renewable energy projects in the County. The moratorium restricts projects over 10 megawatts until new rules are established. The Twin Falls County Commissioners made this decision because of a lack of consensus, with only one person at the meeting supporting such projects, while a majority opposed them.

Hanson emphasized the need for proactive approaches to prevent and resolve conflicts around renewable energy developments similar to the situation in Twin Falls County. She highlighted the importance of engaging communities in discussions to make informed local decisions, and recognize the need to navigate such challenges.

Hanson’s presentation highlighted the importance of proactive and collaborative approaches to address conflicts and create sustainable, clean energy solutions for the state of Idaho.

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