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Idaho, utilities receive federal funds for electric grid resilience

An Idaho National Laboratory power engineer examines breaker settings at an electric substation.
Idaho National Laboratory
/
Flickr Creative Commons
An Idaho National Laboratory power engineer examines breaker settings at an electric substation.

Idaho utilities and power companies will soon be able to apply for millions of dollars to stabilize the electric grid in the face of natural disasters.

The Idaho Governor's Office of Energy and Mineral Resources (OEMR) received $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy via the bipartisan infrastructure law for grid resilience projects earlier this year. It plans on launching the grant program to distribute the funds this week. Idaho's investor-owned utilities and approximately 22 municipal or co-op power providers are eligible to apply.

The federal government's goal with this initiative is to modernize power plants and transmission lines to withstand the impact of weather events exacerbated by climate change, such as wildfires and heat waves.

Richard Stover, the OEMR administrator, said increased demand for electricity is also expected to exert additional pressure on the grid.

"Whether as a result of population growth moving into Idaho and the West, or also electrification efforts," he said.

Plugging in more electric vehicles and appliances, for example, as opposed to those powered by fossil fuels, will contribute to that increased electricity demand.

According to Stover, utilities can use this disaster resilience funding in several ways, including purchasing a weed whacker to clear vegetation, burying transmission lines and coating wooden poles in a fire-resistant mesh.

"If it is impacted by fire, this mesh will then turn into a foam that prevents the power pole from burning," he said.

In addition to Idaho's allocation, two utilities received their own funds for wildfire mitigation in Idaho through the latest round of federal grid resilience funds announced this month.

PacifiCorp, which is headquartered in Portland and owns Rocky Mountain Power, received roughly $50 million to better detect, and protect against, wildfires in California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Holy Cross Energy in Colorado received $99.3 million across 16 states, including Idaho, to launch a wildfire mitigation project in collaboration with 39 rural nonprofit electric co-ops in high-risk areas.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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