BOISE – Idaho has a “new natural resource” on its state endowment lands, lawmakers say: Wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other renewable energy resources that could be profitably harnessed to make money for schools.
The state Senate voted unanimously Monday for final passage of HB 500, to revise rules for commercial leases of state endowment lands to include renewable energy projects. The bill earlier passed the House and now heads to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature.
Idaho’s endowment lands traditionally have made most of their money for schools through timber sales.
“This is another natural resource we have,” said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who along with Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, has been pushing the bill for several months. “The generation of power is recession-proof, because they’re sold on long-term contracts, and people need to have power.”
Anderson said surrounding states are requiring their utilities to purchase renewable energy, and Idaho’s in a good position to provide it, while also fulfilling its endowment land mission to earn money for schools.
The state Land Board has been favorable to the concept, which Anderson said could include power generation from small plants utilizing timber slash in North Idaho. He said that would also reduce air pollution from the current practice of burning the slash on-site in the forests.
Said Anderson, “We have some tremendous potential sites out there, not just in the southern part of the state but also up north.”
Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said Monday, “Many of the most viable lands for potential leases are currently dormant, non-productive lands whose sole purpose is to support education. I know that the potential is enormous, and it will address … energy needs in a clean way.”