On average, there are more than 200 sunny days in Boise (and during the dog days of summer, it feels as if there are a lot more).
And those numbers should cast a long shadow over Boise City Hall this Tuesday, July 29, when the City Council will be asked to move forward with plans to lease public property to a private firm that wants to build a $45 million solar power plant.
It was four years ago when Mayor Dave Bieter, as part of his State of the City address, said that the city had a plan to lease city-owned property to Sunergy World to build a photovoltaic plant.
And this coming week, city leaders will be asked to commit to a 20-year lease, with an option for an additional 10 years, with Boise City Solar, a subsidiary of Sunergy, to build a 40 megawatt solar facility on 360 acres at the Twenty Mile South Biosolids Application Facility on South Cloverdale Road.
As part of the deal, the city would receive a lease rate of $150 per acre per year (approximately $54,000 per year). Additionally, the city would receive a franchise fee equivalency of 2.75 percent of the solar farm's gross operating revenue. That's estimated to be $143,000 per year.
In the latest issue of Boise Weekly, we chronicle how Idaho is chugging along in its new era of gas exploration (BW, News, "Drilling into Idaho's Other Common Core," July 23, 2014).
"We were out here when there was no ground disturbed, there was no equipment around and we were told this is what's going to happen and this is how it's going to happen. At that time we didn't have a clue," said Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, surveying the scene of Alta Mesa's latest exploration efforts in and around Payette County.
Now, there's growing interest to explore and drill on Idaho's public lands. And while the Bureau of Land Management says it has dramatically improved is permit process (right now there are nearly 7,000 national permits that have been approved but are sitting unused), it's doing a poorer job of inspecting oil and gas wells.
"While permitting efforts have improved, critical inspections are lagging, and we must do better," said BLM Director Neil Kornze at the recently wrapped Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute in Vail, Colo. "Irregular and declining budgets have hindered our ability to move out agggressively in this area."
Kornze said he has a proposal to ramp up funding for more inspections through a fee system, which could add more than 60 new inspectors nationwide.
The BLM is responsible for inspection and enforcement on a record 100,000 wells nationwide, with tens of thousands of new wells coming on line in recent years.
According to a 2010 University of Idaho study, determining exact sage grouse population numbers is impossible (it's estimated that there are 150,000-400,000 in 11 states); but whatever that number is, sage grouse wield significant power when it comes to the region's environmental choices. And as federal officials mull whether to put it on the endangered species list, this morning's New York Times reports that the grouse is "at the center of one of the country's most important struggles: to balance the demand for energy against the needs of nature."
The sage grouse, sometimes called the “prairie chicken,” is known for an elaborate strutting dance the male birds perform when courting females. The species eats sagebrush, which is disappearing as its desert habitat is being developed.
And in a story called "Frack Quietly, Please: Sage Grouse Is Nesting," this morning's Times chronicles the "prairie chicken's" influence.
“Remember the economic impact of the spotted owl and how much it reduced timber production on federal lands?” said Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner. “The sage grouse has seven times the acreage of the spotted owl. You are looking at billions of dollars in lost economic activity, millions of dollars in lost state and local revenues and tens of thousands of jobs being lost.”
Interestingly, the sage grouse debate appears to have taken the biggest toll on wind energy, stalling several planned projects.
To date, federal officials have delayed, altered or denied permits to more than two dozen energy projects in the West because of the bird.