Idaho's emerging energy industry offers state new story
Green energy is one of the fastest growing businesses right now and Idaho has a piece of the action. The renewable energy industry offers a positive story for the state to build on if state leaders are looking for one.
The New York Times had a story today about the German company Solar World’s new plant in Hillsboro, Ore.
It is the kind of positive story editors love. A company is moving forward creating new jobs in the middle of an historic recession with unemployment off the charts in far away Oregon. Idaho has a similar story going in Pocatello where a Chinese company is investing $260 million to build a polysilicon production plant.
Idaho has an opportunity to tell much of the same story but a mix of culture, politics and chaos has keep this from happening yet. The state's renewable industry's success is tied in part to the world's speed in converting to a carbon free economy, which is tied to combatting global warming.
Idaho Republicans have been slow to buy into climate changes especially since Al Gore is the main face for the fight. In rural Idaho anything "green" smacks of the people who they think closed the mills and ruined traditional industries.
But green energy is one of the fastest growing businesses right now and Idaho has a piece of the action.
Hoku Materials will create 250 jobs when it fully on line to supply Sanyo, the world's fourth largest manufacturer of solar panels, with polysilicon, the material used in microchips. The company not only manufactures materials but also makes finished photovoltaic systems in Hawaii. It also has a division that has developed proprietary fuel cell membranes and other parts for fuel cells, another promising new energy technology.
Micron has already brought on staff for its planned production of light emitting diodes, LEDs, which are semiconductors that illuminate when electrons move through them. Micron, you remember, revealed its plans to convert its idle buildings in Boise and Nampa to manufacture LEDs and or solar panels earlier this year when it sought stimulus money from the state.
The company continues to seek stimulus funds from the Department of Energy, private funds and still could get state energy funds. If it it hits this new business right it could help Idaho rebrand itself as a leader in the new energy economy.
Inovus Solar, the company that makes solar street lights, is working with Alloway Electric to convert street lights to LED technology at Hyde Park for the city of Boise. It continues its drive to reach street light markets around the world.
Its domestic opportunities have been helped by President Obama’s stimulus package. So far all its domestic production is done here in the Treasure Valley.
Idaho’s leaders have spent the legislative session fighting over basic road maintenance funding and the first cuts ever made in education. The dairy industry is in the dumps and housing has suffered through its own slump.
But the renewable energy industry offers a more positive story for the state to build on if state leaders are looking for one. Add to that the boom the Idaho National Laboratory expects from nuclear waste cleanup funds, Areva's uranium reprocessing plant, potential for biomass projects from the state’s national forests Idaho and its standing as fourth in the country in wind energy potential.
Energy entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for the state to act but imagine if state leaders were to embrace or even brand the new economic driver?
Rocky Barker, The Idaho Statesman