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Idaho   Idaho Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: November 16, 2017

Overview

Idaho has few fossil fuel resources but is rich in renewable energy resources.

Idaho, also known as the Gem State, is rich in silver, phosphate, and many other minerals, but the state has few fossil fuel resources.1,2 Idaho's energy potential lies in its substantial renewable resources, including solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass.3 Mountains cover much of Idaho from its border with Canada on the north to Nevada and Utah on the south. The mountains capture moisture-laden clouds coming east from the Pacific in winter, producing plentiful mountain snowfalls that feed the state's fast-running rivers.4 Idaho's river valleys, which offered passage through the rugged mountains for early settlers, today give the state a wealth of hydroelectric and wind energy resources.5,6 The plains flanking Idaho's Snake River stretch all the way across the southern part of the state, from the Teton Mountains on the Wyoming border to Hells Canyon at the Oregon border.7 The valleys of the Snake River and its tributaries are home to most of Idaho's population, more than two-fifths of whom live in the Boise area. Vast stretches of Idaho remain wilderness.8,9,10,11

Nearly three-fourths of the energy Idahoans consume comes from out of state.12 Idaho's energy consumption per capita and the state's energy intensity (the amount of energy consumed to produce each dollar of the state's gross domestic product) are each above the national medians.13,14 Industry is the leading energy consuming end-use sector in the state followed by the transportation sector.15 Agriculture, forest products, and mining have long been important to Idaho's economy. However, service industries, construction, computer and electronics manufacturing, food processing, and tourism are growing economic sectors.16,17

Petroleum

Idaho has no significant proved petroleum reserves and only small amounts of petroleum production.18,19 Exploration for petroleum in Idaho began in 1903, but, despite promising geology in the state's southeast and southwest, no commercial reserves were discovered or produced until recently.20 Since 2015, small amounts of crude oil have been produced from wells drilled primarily for natural gas.21,22

Idaho has no petroleum refineries.23 The state receives petroleum products by two pipelines,24,25 one running west along the Snake River Valley from refineries in Utah and another crossing the northern part of the state from refineries in Montana. Some petroleum products from Puget Sound refineries are also sent by pipeline to Portland, Oregon, and then by barge up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, Idaho.26

Petroleum is the leading source of energy in Idaho, but the state's petroleum consumption per capita is slightly below the national median.27,28 About three-fourths of the petroleum consumed in Idaho is used in the transportation sector, and most of the rest is used in the industrial sector.29 Idaho is one of the few states that allow use of conventional motor gasoline statewide. However, like most states, much of the motor fuel sold in the state contains 10% ethanol, and the more populous states around Idaho do require oxygenated blends.30,31,32 Idaho has one operational ethanol plant, in the east at Burley, and a small idled plant in the west at Caldwell. The production capacity of the operating plant is less than Idaho's annual consumption of fuel ethanol.33,34

Natural gas

Idaho does not have any significant natural gas reserves.35 Natural gas discoveries in 2013 led to commercial natural gas production in southwestern Idaho, but output so far has been modest.36,37,38 Idaho consumers receive most of their natural gas supply by interstate pipeline, mostly from Canada.39,40 One pipeline system enters Idaho at its northern border with Canada, crosses the panhandle, and continues to Washington, Oregon, and California. The other system runs from the San Juan Basin in southwestern Colorado across Idaho's Snake River Plain to the Pacific Northwest and Canada. That system is bi-directional, so it can supply natural gas to Idaho either from Canada or from Wyoming and Colorado.41 Nearly nine-tenths of the natural gas entering Idaho continues on, primarily to Washington.42

Natural gas consumption per capita in Idaho ranks among the lowest one-third of states despite extremely low temperatures in winter and the prevalence of natural gas use for heating.43,44 The industrial sector is the state's largest natural gas-consuming sector, followed by the residential and electric power sectors.45 Slightly more than half of Idaho households use natural gas as their primary energy source for home heating.46

Coal

Idaho has only small estimated recoverable coal reserves and no coal mining.47,48 There are no utility-owned coal-fired generating plants within Idaho and only two industrial cogeneration facilities.49 Coal is supplied primarily from mines in Wyoming and Utah and is shipped to Idaho by rail. A small amount of anthracite coal is sent by rail from Pennsylvania.50

Electricity

In 2016, renewable resources accounted for a larger share of net electricity generation in Idaho than in any other state except Vermont.

Hydroelectric power plants have typically supplied more than three-fourths of Idaho's in-state net generation. However, in recent years drought has reduced hydroelectric generation's share to less than three-fifths.51 The balance of Idaho's in-state net electricity generation is almost entirely supplied by natural gas and nonhydroelectric renewable resources, particularly wind.52 In 2016, renewable resources, including hydropower, accounted for a larger share of net electricity generation in Idaho than in any other state except Vermont.53 Idaho's two small coal-fired power plants are industrial combined heat and power facilities.54 The state has no commercial nuclear power plants, but the Idaho National Laboratory, a federal nuclear power and energy research center, is one of the state's largest employers and was the site of the first U.S. nuclear electricity generation in 1951.55,56,57

More than one-third of the electricity consumed in Idaho comes from out of state.58 Although coal's annual share of Idaho's in-state electricity generation is minimal, about one-third of the electricity consumed in Idaho is from coal-fired power plants located in other states.59,60 Idaho depends on power supplied via interstate transmission lines from out-of-state generating facilities owned by Idaho utilities and other suppliers.61,62 A coal-fired power plant in Oregon that supplies electricity to Idaho is scheduled to close in 2020, and others may shut by 2025.63 The amount of coal-fired generation consumed in Idaho varies depending on how much hydroelectric power is available.64

The region's transmission lines have grown increasingly congested, and projects are under way to expand capacity both to supply Idaho and to transport power between several western states including Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.65,66,67,68 Most new generating capacity planned in the region will use either natural gas or renewable resources, and transmission projects are being designed to enable development of the region's renewable resources.69,70

The average price of electricity sold to end users in Idaho is one of the lowest in the nation because of the large share of net generation that comes from relatively inexpensive hydropower. Even in dry years, when stream flows are low, and costs increase, state retail electricity prices are relatively low. Despite low prices overall, the average industrial sector price for electricity is only slightly less than the national average for that sector. The largest share of retail electricity sales goes to the state's industrial sector followed closely by the residential sector.71,72 About one-third of Idaho households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating.73

Renewable energy

Six of Idaho’s 10 largest power plants by generation are hydroelectric facilities.

Idaho typically gets more than three-fourths of its net electricity generation from renewable energy, primarily from hydroelectric sources.74,75 Four of Idaho's 10 largest generating facilities by capacity and 6 of the 10 largest by generation are hydroelectric power plants.76 The nation's largest privately-owned conventional hydroelectric generating facility is on the Idaho-Oregon border. The facility, owned by Idaho Power, is a three-dam complex on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon on the North American continent. 77,78

One of Idaho's largest electricity generating plants is a 125-megawatt wind facility.79 Although only a small percentage of the state's land area is suitable for wind development, Idaho has substantial wind energy potential along the Snake River and on mountain ridges across the state.80 In 2006, utility-scale electricity generation from wind energy began in Idaho.81 In 2016, wind provided nearly one-sixth of the state's net electricity generation from 15 utility-scale wind facilities whose total capacity of 973 megawatts is all located in the Snake River Valley.82,83,84 Idaho has no renewable portfolio standard (RPS) or state-wide renewable energy goals. Wind developers typically sell their electricity to Idaho electricity retailers and sell their renewable energy certificates to electricity providers who are subject to RPS requirements in neighboring states.85,86,87

Idaho's volcanic landscape has some of the best geothermal potential in the nation with a wealth of hot springs and other geothermal resources that have long been used for aquaculture, greenhouses, spas, resorts, and city district heating. In 2008, the first commercial geothermal power plant in the Pacific Northwest began operations in south central Idaho. The 18-megawatt facility, Idaho's only geothermal power plant, is built on the site of the federal government's first geothermal electricity generation pilot project. 88,89,90 In 2016, Idaho was one of eight states with operating geothermal power capacity and one of seven with utility-scale geothermal electricity generation.91,92 Utility-scale geothermal technology is water-intensive, and development in Idaho may be limited by availability of groundwater.93

About two-fifths of Idaho is forest land.94 Biomass, primarily wood waste from the state's forests, provides about 4% of Idaho's net electricity generation. Electricity is also generated from other waste biomass and landfill gas.95,96 The only biofuel plant in the state uses corn to make ethanol.97 Idaho also has seven wood pellet plants that have a combined production capacity of more than 225,000 metric tons per year.98

Idaho had its first utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation in 2016. Distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) solar PV accounted for one-fourth of the state's total solar electricity generation.99 Solar PV and solar heating are widely used in the state's rural areas. The state offers low-interest loans and tax deductions for small-scale solar facilities.100,101 Idaho's three investor-owned electric utilities offer net metering programs that take electricity from small wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable sources. Commercial, residential, and agricultural customers are eligible for net metering.102

Endnotes

1 Idaho State University, Idaho Museum of Natural History, Mining in Idaho, accessed October 10, 2017.
2 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Natural Gas, Natural Gas Production in Idaho, accessed October 10, 2017.
3 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Renewable Energy, accessed October 10, 2017.
4 Qualls, Russell, "Idaho Contrasts from Mountains to Plains," Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, State Climates Series, accessed October 10, 2017.
5 U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Historic Trails, Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide, Along the Snake River Plain Through Idaho, The Tangle of Trails Through Idaho (October 2008), p. 7-10.
6 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Idaho Profile Overview, Hydroelectric Power Plant and Wind Power Plant Map Layers, accessed October 10, 2017.
7 World Atlas, Idaho, Idaho Geography, accessed October 10, 2017.
8 U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census: Idaho Profile.
9 U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder, Advanced Search, Table B01003, Total Population, 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Idaho and Boise Metro Area.
10 University of Montana, Wilderness.net, Idaho, accessed October 10, 2017.
11 Sangres.com, National Wilderness Areas in Idaho, accessed October 10, 2017.
12 U.S. EIA, State Energy Production Estimates, 1960-2015, Table P3, Energy Production and Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2015.
13 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 Through 2015, DOE/EIA-0214(2015) (June 2017), Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
14 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C12, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2015.
15 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
16 NETSTATE, Idaho Economy, updated February 25, 2016.
17 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Interactive Data, Regional Data, GDP and Personal Income, Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, GDP in current dollars, NAICS, All Industries, Idaho, 2015.
18 U.S. EIA, Idaho Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed September 29, 2017.
19 U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Production, Annual, accessed September 29, 2017.
20 McLeod, John D., The Search for Oil and Gas in Idaho, GeoNote 21, Idaho Geological Survey (1993).
21 Barker, Rocky, "Idaho Has Become an Oil-Producing State," Idaho Statesman (June 28, 2016).
22 U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Production, Annual, accessed September 29, 2017.
23 U.S. EIA, Refinery Capacity Report (June 2017), Table 3, Capacity of Operable Petroleum Refineries by State as of January 1, 2017.
24 Tesoro Logistics Pipelines, LLC, Tesoro Logistics, accessed September 29, 2017.
25 Energy Transfer Partners, Asset Map, Yellowstone Pipeline, accessed September 29, 2017.
26 Idaho, Office of the Attorney General, Report on Motor Fuel Prices in Idaho (June 2008), p. 3-6.
27 U.S. EIA, State Energy Consumption Estimates 1960 Through 2015, DOE/EIA-0214(2015) (June 2017), Table C11, Energy Consumption Estimates by Source, Ranked by State, 2015.
28 U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates, State Population Totals Tables: 2010-2016, Population Estimates, Population Change, and Components of Change Tables, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 (NST-EST2016-01).
29 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2015.
30 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gasoline Standards, Gasoline Programs: Reformulated Gasoline, Reid Vapor Pressure, and Winter Oxygenates, accessed September 29, 2017.
31 American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Gasoline Requirements, updated June 22, 2015.
32 U.S. EIA, "Almost all U.S. gasoline is blended with 10% ethanol," Today in Energy (May 4, 2016).
33 Ethanol Producer Magazine, U.S. Ethanol Plants, updated September 23, 2017.
34 U.S. EIA, Idaho Profile Data, Environment, accessed September 29, 2017.
35 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Reserves Summary as of Dec. 31, Dry Natural Gas, 2010-15.
36 Barker, Rocky, "Idaho on the verge of becoming a natural gas producing state," Idaho Statesman Blogs (July 12, 2013).
37 Idaho Geological Survey, Idaho Oil & Gas, Southwestern Idaho Gas Play, accessed October 2, 2017.
38 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, Gross Withdrawals, 2011-16.
39 U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Idaho, 2011-16.
40 Idaho Public Utilities Commission, Major Natural Gas Pipelines and Local Gas Distribution Companies, accessed October 2, 2017.
41 Northwest Gas Association and Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, Natural Gas-Electricity Primer (August 2012), p. 7-8.
42 U.S. EIA, International & Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Idaho, 2011-16.
43 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Total Consumption, Annual, 2011-16.
44 U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates, State Population Totals Tables: 2010-2016, Population Estimates, Population Change, and Components of Change Tables, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 (NST-EST2016-01).
45 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Idaho, Annual, 2011-16.
46 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Idaho, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2011-15.
47 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 3, 2016), Table 1, Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, 2015 and 2014.
48 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 3, 2016), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2015.
49 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
50 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Distribution Report 2015 (November 2016), By Coal Destination State, Idaho, Table DS-12, Domestic Coal Distribution, by Destination State, 2015, p. 60.
51 U.S. EIA, Idaho Electricity Profile 2015, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2015.
52 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B, 1.14.B.
53 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
54 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
55 U.S. EIA, Idaho, Profile Overview, Map, Layers/Legend, Nuclear Power Plants, accessed October 10, 2017.
56 Idaho National Laboratory, Fact Sheets, INL Overview, accessed October 10, 2017.
57 Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory Increases Its Contribution to Idaho's Economy by 20.4 Percent, Press Release (January 11, 2017).
58 U.S. EIA, Idaho Electricity Profile 2015, Table 10, Supply and disposition of electricity, 1990 through 2015.
59 Ramseth, Luke, "Idaho's Energy Future: Less Coal, Uncertain Hydro," Idaho Statesman (December 28, 2015).
60 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B.
61 Idaho Power, Our Power Plants, accessed October 10, 2017.
62 U.S. EIA, State Electricity Profiles, 2015, Idaho, Table 10, Supply and Disposition of Electricity, 1990 through 2015.
63 Ramseth, Luke, "Idaho's Energy Future: Less Coal, Uncertain Hydro," Idaho Statesman (December 28, 2015).
64 Idaho Power, Typical Resource Portfolio Fuel Mix, accessed October 10, 2017.
65 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Energy Infrastructure, Transmission Line Projects, accessed October 10, 2017.
66 Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, Gateway West Transmission Line Project, accessed October 11, 2017.
67 Idaho Power, Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line Project, accessed October 11, 2017.
68 Pacificorp, Energy Gateway, updated August 2017.
69 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Proposed Units Only).
70 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Energy Infrastructure, Transmission Line Projects, accessed October 11, 2017.
71 Idaho Public Utilities Commission, Power Cost Adjustment, What is the PCA (Power Cost Adjustment)?, accessed October 10, 2017.
72 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 5.6.B.
73 U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Idaho, Table B25040, House Heating Fuel, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2011-15.
74 U.S. EIA, State Electricity Profiles, 2015, Idaho, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2015.
75 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
76 U.S. EIA, State Electricity Profiles, 2015, Idaho, Table 2A, Ten largest plants by capacity, 2015, and Table 2B, Ten largest plants by generation, 2015.
77 Idaho Power, Hells Canyon, accessed October 11, 2017.
78 U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Present Development of Conventional Hydroelectric Projects, updated June 10, 2013.
79 U.S. EIA, State Electricity Profiles, 2015, Idaho, Table 2A, Ten largest plants by capacity, 2015.
80 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Wind Energy in Idaho, accessed October 12, 2017.
81 U.S. EIA, State Electricity Profiles, 2015, Idaho, Table 5, Electric power industry generation by primary energy source, 1990 through 2015.
82 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.3.B, 1.14.B.
83 American Wind Energy Association, Idaho Wind Energy, accessed October 12, 2017.
84 U.S. EIA, Idaho Profile Overview, Map Layers/Legends, Wind Power Plant, accessed October 12, 2017.
85 National Conference of State Legislatures, State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, updated August 1, 2017.
86 Idaho Power, How Renewable Energy Certificates Work, accessed October 12, 2017.
87 American Public Power Association, "Seattle City Light Acquires Idaho Wind Project's Renewable Energy Credits," Public Power Weekly (May 2, 2011).
88 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Renewable Energy, Geothermal, accessed October 12, 2017.
89 Roberts, Billy J., Geothermal Resource of the United States, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (October 13, 2009).
90 U.S. Geothermal Inc., Operating Power Plants, Raft River, accessed October 12, 2017.
91 Geothermal Energy Association, 2016 Annual U.S. and Global Geothermal Power Production Report (March 2016), p. 17.
92 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.16.B.
93 Harrington, Helen, Ken Neely, and Warren Weihung, Geothermal Resources in Idaho, Idaho Department of Water Resources, updated 2007, p. 14.
94 Idaho Forest Products Commission, Look to the Future, Look to the Forest, accessed October 12, 2017.
95 U.S. EIA, Electricity, Form EIA-860 detailed data, 2015 Form EIA-860 Data, Schedule 3, 'Generator Data' (Operable Units Only).
96 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.15.B.
97 Ethanol Producer Magazine, U.S. Ethanol Plants, updated September 23, 2017.
98 Biomass Magazine, U.S. Pellet Plants, operational, updated May 17, 2017.
99 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.17.B.
100 Idaho, Governor's Office of Energy Resources, Solar, accessed October 24, 2017.
101 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Idaho, Residential Alternative Energy Tax Deduction, updated December 18, 2015.
102 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Idaho Power, Net Metering , updated October 27, 2016.