NW Energy Innovation Summit inspires discussion on alternative energy development

When Amory Lovins penned the ground-breaking book Soft Energy Paths many years ago, I figured it would be a while before America’s commitment to finite energy sources such as oil and gas, coal and nuclear would wane. Someday, I figured, the powers that be and the marketplace would gravitate toward alternative and renewable energy.

But I had no idea it would take sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long.

Finally, after Americans got soaked by the big oil companies last summer when Exxon Mobil and others made record profits from $4-per-gallon gasoline, people are starting to look at alternative energy sources in a new and big way, not to mention hybrid and electric cars.

Idaho has embraced a goal of becoming 25 percent energy independent by 2025, more large-scale renewable energy projects are pending in this state than ever before, and Idaho Power Co.’s big push in the future is to save energy through improved energy-efficient building practices, tighter insulation and conservation. Idaho ranks No. 5 in the nation in terms of renewable energy development potential.

It is against this backdrop that Boise entrepreneur Mark Rivers organized the Northwest Energy Innovation Summit, which began today in Boise. Mr. Rivers has lined up a bevy of Idaho, regional and national authorities, including Woodrow Clark II, Senior Fellow at the Milken Institute and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (2007) on climate change, Bill Jayne, regional director of GE Power and Water, Dr. David Hill, deputy director of INL and Catherine Wolfram, co-executive director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Innovation at Cal-Berkeley. The list goes on.

In some respects, Idaho has been on the forefront of alternative energy development given its history. Arco was the first U.S. city powered by atomic power, Idaho Power developed its power base on our mighty Snake River with scores of hydroelectric power projects, and INL continues to be a key national R&D; lab for tech transfer projects. Idaho is No. 1 in the nation for patents filed per capita – our thirst for business innovation continues to be strong.

Some key ingredients moving forward will be whether the Idaho Legislature, the Obama administration and Congress provide new financial incentives for alternative energy development. Clearly, we need political leadership on this issue and a host of financial incentives for the private sector to jump in with both feet.

We also need to do a much better job of publicizing the alternative/renewable energy projects that already have been developed, and sharing this information with the general public and business community. This is an area where Drake Cooper expects to leverage its skill set to assist in what could become a major area of economic growth in Idaho and the Northwest. One speaker said we are poised on the edge of the “Third Industrial Revolution.”

Thanks to Mark Rivers for getting the ball rolling. Let’s hope that the produces a great buzz and human energy to get this movement going in a big way in Idaho. – Steve Stuebner

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