Northwestern U.S. state Idaho is popular for multiple reasons. Something that immediately draws attention is the state’s scenic beauty dominated by mountainous landscapes. Something that is even more corroborative of Idaho’s exceptionality is the substantial share of renewables in the state’s net electricity generation.
Renewable energy is the talk of the town. World leaders have pledged ambitious goals in the Climate Summit 2021 convened by President Biden. Amid the pandemic, when the world was suffering on the socioeconomic front, global leaders still managed to talk about an issue that is unequivocally critical to humans. Sea levels are rising. Indigenous communities are already facing the brunt. Countless people die every year due to pollution. The threats will be even greater for our future generations.
Pledging, more often than not, is easy. But are governments really doing enough on the ground to cut carbon emissions?
Idaho, data suggests, is apparently leading from the front.
Politically, Idaho is a Republican stronghold. In 2020, it overwhelmingly voted for Trump, a critic of themes like climate change and emissions. In fact, Idaho hasn’t voted for a Democratic candidate since 1964. Data on the state’s electricity generation points to a stark contrast with the political leaning of the state.
Consider this. Renewables accounted for 20% in total electricity generated in the United States in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In Idaho, renewables have 76% in the state’s total generation capacity. In fact, half of Idaho’s largest energy generation facilities use either hydro or wind as fuel.
What’s more? Hydroelectric plants dominate Idaho’s power generation space and contribute nearly 60% to net annual generation.
A slightly conflicting fact is that the state relies on electricity imports for nearly one-third of its total consumption. That this figure was over 50% in 1990 is a validation of how Idaho has channeled its resources to become more self-sufficient in electricity generation. On a separate note, imports aren’t bad as long as there are no feasible options to produce that commodity within the borders. Idaho, indeed, has vast resources, and the state has made commendable progress in tapping them.
But this cannot be the end of it, targeting more ambitious goals seems both feasible and rewarding. Share of all three major renewable sources – hydro, wind and solar – in Idaho’s net production is better than the national average.
What’s needed is building on the same momentum. Idaho is chasing the target of being the number one state to generate energy from renewable sources across America and is increasing the efficiency of already installed facilities with both private and public investment.
In the same light, consider this. The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit organization, has reported that in 2019 there were close to 250,000 workers in the US solar industry. The figure for Idaho, however, is close to just 500. Lately, workers in Idaho’s solar industry have suffered job losses, partly due to the pandemic-induced shutdowns and partly due to a decrease in the number of installations in the state. To put this in perspective, 45 jobs were lost in 2019, and solar manufacturing in the state fell by 3%.
For wind power, data again suggests course correction is long overdue. In 2020, net generation in Idaho from wind was less than what it was in 2014. While wind power generation in the state saw a steep rise between 2010 and 2014, the figures after that haven’t been quite encouraging.
The Idaho government has been doing its bit in promoting renewables. From property tax exemptions that can be availed by wind and solar energy producers to income tax deduction for energy efficiency upgrades, the state has in place multiple policy actions.
But there is also a need to reflect on how droughts have crippled the state’s ability to produce much of its electricity from hydro. There are ways to address a visible gap. From promoting solar PV installations at micro levels to adopting new technologies, for example, vertical-axis wind turbines, there’s a lot to be contemplated and executed.
The country is targeting 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2035; Idaho knows how to lead from the front.
Kunal Sawhney is founder and CEO at the Kalkine Group, which provides a holistic view of stock investment recommendations to retail investors with respect to financial performance, strategy and industry catalysts.