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Eye On Boise

Otter’s newest campaign ad focuses on alternative energy development

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new campaign commercial, this one focusing on alternative energy development in Idaho; you can see it here. Coming this weekend: A look at the claims in the ad. Click below to read a report from the Associated Press's John Miller on the ad, including a charge from Otter challenger Keith Allred that it greenwashes Otter's record.

Allred says Otter energy ad greenwashes record
By JOHN MILLER,Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter takes credit for helping develop Idaho alternative energy projects in new TV campaign ads, prompting Democrat Keith Allred to protest the governor is greenwashing his record.

"I've made alternative energy research a top priority," Otter says, in a spot that began Thursday. "We're among the leaders in the nation. Today, we have projects in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and nuclear. And we've just scratched the surface."

Allred counters Otter's record since he was elected in 2006 shows the governor has been far more dismissive of alternative energy, especially wind and solar, than his ad leads voters to believe.

"Otter is trying really hard to create a new image for himself in the middle of the campaign for his job," said Shea Andersen, Allred's spokesman.

So who is right?

Otter has supported energy research, including the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls. The state provides more than a $1.5 million annually to help pay salaries there. Otter is also a big backer of the Idaho National Laboratory, though it's federal taxes, not his administration, that power the Department of Energy research facility in the state's eastern desert.

Still, in 2008, Otter's administration drew criticism from wind-energy advocates by stripping funding from a state group working to promote turbine developments.

He's also publicly dismissed the viability of some solar projects, using his own small ranch near Boise as an example: Panels to warm the 35-acre spread would cost $60,000, he said, while a natural-gas furnace cost him just a tenth of that.

In his ads, he's more optimistic: "The next time you're enjoying a sunny day, remember, those rays are shining jobs on Idaho's future," Otter tells viewers.

And in 2007, he derided "clean energy" in an interview as living off government handouts.

"Alternative energy, clean energy — those are all great ideas," Otter told The Associated Press then. "But when you take a look at the impact they have and the subsidy they need, solar and wind both are tremendously subsidized. I think there are other clean energy alternatives. I think nuclear is one of them. I'm behind nuclear.

Idaho also trails neighboring states in renewables development.

In 2009, Idaho had 147 megawatts of installed wind power production; Oregon had 1,758 megawatts, Washington had 1,849 and Wyoming had 1,099, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Allred's campaign said it's the federal government Otter loves to bash — not the Republican's policies — that's helped Idaho's renewable energy projects including a new $500 million wind farm under construction near Hagerman.

Otter was at its turbine-blade signing ceremony in August, but GE Energy Financial Services told the AP its 183-megawatt project was made possible by incentives in President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus act.

"It isn't Otter who's made Idaho a leader in alternative energy, but entrepreneurs whose help — when they've received help — has come from the federal government," Andersen said.

In 2007 and 2008, Otter signed measures passed by the Idaho Legislature to give state tax breaks to geothermal and wind power producers.

Though California may require utilities to get a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, Paul Kjellander, head of Idaho's Office of Energy Resources, said Idaho's rejection of such mandates will allow alternatives like wind and solar to come on line as it's needed, not as government dictates.

Kjellander, an Otter appointee, said alternative power is a priority, as is bolstering Idaho's transmission network to accommodate electricity from multiple sources and deliver it as cheaply to consumers.

And while Idaho's wind working group funding was stricken in 2008, Kjellander said his office replaced it with the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance that's pursuing similar goals, only with a "fully integrated resource approach."

"You can't look at wind without looking at base load generation," Kjellander said. "You can't look at wind without looking at transmission. We quite simply couldn't afford to fund multiple different groups moving toward some of the same goals."

Kjellander insists Idaho, ranked 13th in U.S. for wind potential, is catching up to neighbors in turbine development, with 800 megawatts under contract with utilities like Idaho Power Co. either built or in development.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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