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A Mighty Wind for Idaho

A mighty wind is at work in Idaho, blowing in jobs with a brand new deal for a wind-farm cluster near Twin Falls, to include 122 new wind turbines sending power to 11 plants in the state. Idaho Wind Partners, a project launched by infrastructure fund manager DIF Capital, has awarded the contract to GE in the form of a ten-year, full-service agreement for the 183-megawatt farms to be managed by Longroad Energy. GE Renewable Energy has a strong performance record, having serviced Idaho Wind Partners on previous projects with turbines achieving 99% availability from the point of commission. The IWP contract includes a suite of GE’s digital services, including GE’s PowerUp, eSCADA, and Digital Plan of the Day digital tools to manage the wind generation. 

So how do we get from gusts of wind to megawatts of power? When wind spins the blades of a turbine clockwise, that triggers the main shaft of the turbine which is connected to a gearbox within the nacelle, the cover that houses all of the generating components of the turbine, including the generator, drive train, and brake assembly. As the gearbox is triggered, it spins to life, sending energy to a generator which converts it to electricity. This electricity travels to a transformer for voltage levels to be adjusted to match whatever grid output is needed. It’s beautifully simple engineering. Utility-scale turbines are usually installed 265 – 330 feet high, though recently they’ve been climbing upwards of 460 feet to gain better access to strong winds. If you have an average wind speed of at least 6.7 miles per hour, you’re in business. 

GE Renewable Energy is currently responsible for monitoring and maintaining more than 15,000 wind turbines across the globe. DIF Capital Partners North America asset management head David Lau says: “We have been very satisfied with GE’s strong performance to date and are delighted to continue our relationship. Thanks to our strong partners, Idaho Wind Partners is certainly a well performing project in our portfolio.” Idaho is a well performing state when it comes to energy in general, with a majority of their power sourced from renewables, led by hydro at 55.44%. Wind has fallen from 2015 when it provided one-fifth of the state’s power, but it still clocks in at 16.7%. From the winding Snake River to Idaho’s sloping mountain ranges, there is ample opportunity for wind development.  

As in Idaho, wind is on the rise across America, according to a recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund. Solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the greater U.S. economy. Idaho’s traditional energy employment falls just under national averages at 1.8% of total state employment, with 13,165 energy jobs. The interesting bit is that Idaho already boasts an additional 9,035 jobs in energy efficiency, the fastest-growing energy job sector in the nation. In Idaho, 13% of construction jobs and 27% of all energy jobs are in energy efficiency, and 9% of Idaho residents employed in energy efficiency are veterans. 

With wind turbine technician second only to solar photovoltaic installer as the fastest growing profession in America, Idaho is keeping pace, offering wind energy career programs at Idaho State University, Boise State University through the Idaho Wind Application Center and at the College of Southern Idaho. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Winds for Schools project helps develop a future wind energy workforce through hands-on education with small wind turbine installations at several Idaho schools including Richard McKenna Charter High School, Midway Middle School, Shelley High School, Skyline High School, Jerome Middle School, Rigby High School, and Pocatello Community Charter School. 

Across the state, communities have already gone with the wind and many more are sure to join as energy builds. In April 2019, Boise became Idaho’s first city to commit to 100% clean energy by 2035. Shortly before making it official, Idaho Power, the utility that supplies electricity for all of Boise, did the same. This is part of an ongoing and significant shift for Idaho Power, whose energy mix in 2016 was 43% fossil fuels — coal, diesel, and gas. Considering the power of wind to clear the air across Idaho, it’s not an impossible feat by any stretch. 

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