Boise will seek 100% clean electricity for homes, businesses. What that means for you

The city of Boise has committed to 100 percent clean electricity use in all homes and businesses, making it one of more than 100 cities across the country to do so.

The Boise City Council voted for a plan to bring about entirely clean electricity use by 2035. The resolution passed unanimously on Tuesday, with Councilman TJ Thomson abstaining, as he works for Idaho Power and the city attorney’s office said that could pose a conflict of interest.

The plan means you’ll be encouraged to take part in Idaho Power’s various programs to curb electricity use in your home or business. These include rebates for buying certain energy-efficient products and summer discounts for customers who let the utility turn off their air conditioners temporarily on hot summer days. The plan also means more builders will be encouraged to meet the city’s green-building standards.

But it does not mean you’ll have to swap out your natural-gas-fired furnace or hot water heater, because the commitment does not include non-electrical energy — a thornier problem for reducing local carbon dependence. Almost half of Boise’s energy use in buildings comes from natural gas, according to the city’s energy plan.

It also does not mean giving up your gasoline-powered car, though the city expects the growth of electric-powered vehicles to continue. The new commitment does not cover energy used by residents’ vehicles.

The council vote followed Idaho Power’s announcement last week that it would push to operate its grid entirely on clean energy by 2045, a shift that would end the energy giant’s use of coal and natural gas. The utility has already cut its reliance on those carbon-burning fuels sharply as it has added solar and wind sources.

Boiseans spent an estimated $245 million on energy for buildings in 2015, three-fourths of which went to Idaho Power, the energy plan says.

The council defined clean energy to include both purchased renewable energy and hydroelectric power, but it encouraged staffers to set a firmer definition so that anyone involved in the debate would be on the same page. The city’s goal is to cut nonrenewable energy sources, such as coal.

Council members and Mayor David Bieter talked about how they felt the transition marked Boise’s commitment to being one of the most livable and successful cities in the country.

“We made clear that we believe it’s important to secure a clean energy economy that’s equitable, sustainable and prosperous for everyone,” Council President Lauren McLean said in a statement Wednesday.

City staffers, as well as a stakeholder group, guided the effort, which included extensive public outreach to learn the thoughts Boise residents had on the subject.

More than 77 percent of those who responded to a city survey said they at least somewhat agreed with the effort to reduce energy use and transition to clean energy overall. Just over 10 percent of residents disagreed with the effort.

The move to clean electricity also was applauded by residents who attended the council meeting and by conservation groups across the state.

Those who spoke during the public hearing primarily encouraged the council to adopt the resolution and lauded their effort; the biggest criticism came from people who felt the resolution didn’t go far enough in reducing energy use and encouraged the city to set 2024 as the goal year for 100 percent clean electricity.

Some environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Sierra Club, put out news releases commending the move. Conservation Voters for Idaho said the city “broke new ground” with the decision.

Nuclear power was not discussed during the plan’s drafting, said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Bieter, in an email to the Statesman. Idaho Power does not use nuclear power, though it said it will consider eventually buying into a proposed modular nuclear reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory in East Idaho. Idaho Power considers nuclear to be clean, carbon-free energy.

Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.