An Interview with the Energy CzarAn Interview with Paul Kjellander, Administrator of Idaho’s newly created Office of Energy Resources. Kjellander is past president of the Idaho Public Commission. Bruce Reichert interviewed Kjellander in April, 2008.
What is the goal of the office of Energy Resources?
How would you describe the energy proclamation that Governor Otter signed?
What has to happen is, first and foremost, we need to quit talking about energy efficiency and demand-side management, and we need to deploy it and implement it.
Can we meet that goal?
I think ultimately what we want to insure is that in the state of Idaho we still have relatively low prices. If it were a mandate, and we had to get it all done by a certain year, and there were guns held to our head, I think there is a very good possibility we could make some uneconomic choices. We’re not under that burden, but we are under the expectation that we do everything in our power to move in that direction; and I think that has been extremely helpful.
To get to “25 by 25,” what has to happen?
Then we need to go out and bring in more renewables, and we need to look at all fuel sources and fuel types, and we need to do it in a cost effective manner. We need to bring those resources on in a fashion in which they are cost effective. And then we also need to recognize what the costs are for those that today are out of the money and what the parameters will look like when those will be resources that we can develop, and we need to be ready to develop them when the costs are right.
How would you rate the energy situation in Idaho?
We have some good wind sites. We have some good geothermal sites. We have the potential for solar, and we also have the opportunity for other resources in bio-fuels that we need to explore.
So has hydro pretty much reached its maximum potential?
It seems that some parts of Idaho are very well situated for alternative green energy.
From the Governor’s “25 by 25” Council and his objectives with that, we’re tasked with trying to bring more renewable resources into the mix. And I believe that Idaho has some very strong resources. We have some good wind sites. We have some good geothermal sites. We have the potential for solar, and we also have the opportunity for other resources in bio-fuels that we need to explore; and then bio-mass.
We have a very large dairy industry in this state that continues to grow, and there are opportunities there to take the dairy waste and convert that to either electricity or to pipeline quality natural gas. And we need to be exploring that more fully, but go beyond just exploring it. We need to get it developed, and we need to get it scaleable, and we need to get it brought to market, and Idaho has a tremendous degree of potential in that arena.
Are some parts of the state more blessed with potential?
Transmission throughout the west is at or near capacity; and that’s something that, quite honestly, everybody needs to be concerned with.
I was struck by how optimistic the wind people are.
And when you look at transmission lines costing any where from 1.6 to 2.6 million dollars a mile, and then distribution lines being substantially less but still very expensive, if you’re not close to those transmission lines, that can add quite a bit of cost to a project.
So the secret is having good wind near good transmission, and there are some sites in Idaho that have that potential, and certainly those need to be developed and exploited and brought to market.
I’ve heard Idaho is ranked 13th for wind potential.
Transmission lines are a real problem, aren’t they?
Is the solution a federal one or should private enterprise solve the problem?
The state is also looking at its leases on state lands in trying to promote more renewables on state lands, because … that does have the potential to bring in money to the state.
Whose responsibility is it to increase connectivity?
What about the potential for more solar energy in Idaho?
And I think we’re also seeing the utilities start to pay more attention to it as well, as part of some of the longer term solutions. What we’re also seeing in that industry is that the technology is advancing. Just like wind technology has advanced over the last few decades, solar is taking some extraordinary strides as well; and I think we’ll see those costs continue to come down.
How do the utilities view this push for more solar, wind, and other renewable resources?
But what we’re finding, also, is that utilities recognize that they are going to need to bring renewable resources on. So, on the other side of the equation, I think utilities are beginning to learn more about those technologies as they slowly bring some of those projects on line; and they’re beginning to get a little more comfortable with how to integrate those into the system. So, in the long term, it is good.
I think, from a utilities perspective, too, would you rather bring on a lot of smaller projects that might be scattered through a region, or would it be easier for you to integrate one or two or three very large scale wind farms where you have much more control over how to integrate that into your system? I think that’s what they are looking at as well: what is the best way to bring that resource into the system? Is it through multiple projects that are scattered throughout the system, or is it through a more planned and organized approach where there are larger scale facilities?
Geothermal seems to have fewer critics.
We have a lot of wilderness areas in the state; there is some geothermal within that, but you can’t get to it. So you’ve got to be able to develop that resource. Some of it is on federal land, and the federal government has actually done some innovative things as far as their leasing projects.
Geothermal, being more firm, has a lot of positives; and again, it’s easier to integrate into a system. The downside with geothermal is you can drill a lot of holes and at the bottom of those holes you don’t find anything; and those holes cost a lot of money. So it’s not a simple resource to bring to market; but if you can find it, and you have the right temperatures, and you put together the right system, you can have a very, very valuable resource.
But, ultimately, it’s going to depend on each and every one of us as individuals – for lack of a better phrase – to be doing our fair share, to do what we can do to use less energy.
What incentives does the state provide?
There is one more thing that the state is doing. The state is also looking at its leases on state lands in trying to promote more renewables on state lands, because I think they are starting to recognize that that does have the potential to bring in money to the state, if we can develop those resources there and move them to market.
The advantage of a lot of those renewables on state lands is you can still have multiple use on the same property. You can have cattle grazing near wind sites; and that’s good in terms of the potential revenue and opportunities to maximize the financial benefit from state lands; and we’ve seen some good progress there.
Forty nine year leases for wind sites. That’s excellent. That’s very good, and before that, it really didn’t make sense to try and develop wind on a state site. A ten year lease just isn’t sufficient. You’re not going to get financing for it. But with a forty nine year lease there is an opportunity to attract investment for state property.
Ten years from now, where will we be and what has to happen on the energy front?
We need to build into our lifestyles conservation, energy efficiency, and demand-side management. That shouldn’t be something that we only do when there appears to be a crisis, that it is something that we actually transform the market place, so that you can only buy technology that is extremely energy efficient, that when we buy our homes, they are extremely energy efficient.
I think that within ten years we’ll have the ability to bring coal back into the market place, because what “clean” means will be defined; and I think we’ll have that opportunity to have access to more of our energy resources that we have in this country.
But, ultimately, it’s going to depend on each and every one of us as individuals – for lack of a better phrase – to be doing our fair share, to do what we can do to use less energy. And I think it’s also incumbent upon business and industry and manufacturers to be producing products that, from the very beginning, use less energy.