By Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter

Idaho is great at leveraging its abundant natural resources to develop industries. So it’s no surprise that we’re rapidly developing an energy industry around our natural resources of wind, solar and geothermal, and the new technology that’s making them competitive in the marketplace. The result is a host of new career opportunities for Idahoans, now and on the horizon.

Alternative and renewable energy development is a big part of my Project 60 initiative. It’s a particularly good fit for our state since we have long relied on clean, renewable hydropower for a substantial part of our energy portfolio. Geothermal has historically been used in a number of communities to heat homes, fish farms, greenhouses and even our state Capitol. And anyone who knows Idaho is familiar with our sunshine, and wind. The result is growing interest by both alternative energy producers and manufacturers – and this interest has led to some positive news for our economy.

GE Financial Services recently purchased majority equity ownership in Idaho’s largest wind power project, being developed by Exergy Development Group near Hagerman and Burley. This is a huge project, consisting of 11 wind farms valued at nearly $500 million, and comes with 20-year power purchase agreements with Idaho Power. The project is expected to create up to 175 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs in the region. The backing of the huge GE organization bodes well for the future of this project.

Last month, I had the opportunity to sign one of the first wind turbine blades for what will become Idaho’s largest single wind facility. The Goshen North wind farm in Bonneville County will be in full commercial operation by the end of the year, with a generating capacity of 124.5 megawatts, or enough to power about 37,000 homes. Ridgeline Energy and its partners will employ about 250 workers during construction and 10 permanent employees.

Meanwhile, Boise-based Micron Technology is moving ahead with its solar energy manufacturing arm. Micron this year announced a partnership with Australia’s Origin Energy to create a new company called Transform Solar, which will be based in Boise. The company will develop ultrathin solar cells and will manufacture the solar panels. This new operation will sustain jobs at Micron, where research and development supports the new product and new jobs are coming to Transform’s manufacturing site.

Of course, success breeds success, and it seems that renewable energy manufacturing and energy efficiency manufacturing go hand in hand. Through support from the State of Idaho and federal stimulus funds, Micron has established an LED lighting manufacturing facility that is helping Idaho diversify its technological manufacturing base. As Idaho’s success in these areas becomes more widely known, corporations with similar interests are more likely to consider Idaho for their next ventures.

Another big reason that those companies are considering Idaho is the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Idaho Falls that is working closely with our Idaho universities and business community on leveraging their energy technology research into the next generation of cleaner, more efficient and sustainable energy generation, transmission and smart-grid technologies.

There are numerous other alternative energy projects this year that have launched or received funding – creating or sustaining career opportunities for more Idahoans:

  • Hoku Corporation received a $28.3 million credit agreement with China Construction Bank, one of world’s largest banks, to complete its polysilicon production plant in Pocatello.
  • Boise-based U.S. Geothermal Inc. received a $102.2 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a 22-megawatt power plant in eastern Oregon.
  • Mid Point Energy in Jerome is planning a solar farm using 150,000 solar panels that would produce enough power for 45,000 homes.
  • Boise’s geothermal system will be expanded from downtown to Boise State University, possibly heating businesses and homes along the way.
  • Bridge Resources is developing four potential natural gas wells in Payette County. These wells not only provide construction jobs but generate taxes and royalties for the state.
  • Boise-based M2M Communications – one of Idaho’s fastest-growing companies, led by Steve Hodges, a member of my Idaho Innovation Council – secured a $2.1 million U.S. Department of Energy Grant this spring to build a smart grid-compatible irrigation load-control system in California’s Central Valley.

Interest in Idaho from renewable energy manufacturers has been growing significantly over the past two to three years. Last year, 20 percent of inquiries into expanding or moving into Idaho came from energy-related manufacturers, and we’ve stepped up our efforts in this area. The Department of Commerce is working closely with the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, power companies, alternative energy companies and the Idaho National Laboratory in developing its recruitment strategies.

The bottom line: This is an area that we’re targeting for rapid growth, which we’re aggressively pursuing. That’s great news for our economy, and especially for anyone looking for a career opportunity right here at home.

The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.