Boise’s Clean Energy Future

By Crystal Rain

A journalist, an engineer, and a nurse walk onto a farm.

There’s no punchline, it was the first group excursion for Boise’s inaugural cohort of Livability Ambassadors, which I am lucky enough to be a part of. As Livability Ambassadors, 17 other Boise residents and I are given a first-hand look at an array of the city’s innovative public works projects. Ranging from a visit to a water renewal facility to a mosey around the Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center, each month we’re taken on a series of lessons, tours, and discussions designed to expand our knowledge about Boise’s approach to environmental sustainability. The program is designed to provoke conversation and action with the goal of strengthening the community’s commitment to protecting and preserving our community’s resources for future generations.

So what were we doing on a farm? We were visiting Twenty-Mile South Farm (TMSF), a 4,225-acre city owned and operated farm located, you guessed it, 20 miles south of Boise. While from the outside it may look like your average farm, growing a variety of food and forage crops, it is far from ordinary. The farm utilizes an award winning biosolids application system to provide valuable nutrients to the crops. What’s a biosolid? Biosolids are the nutrient-rich, organic byproduct that comes from wastewater treatment that makes them safe for agricultural use. What could be more local?! While this may shock you at first, biosolids use in agriculture is very common. In Idaho, 60 percent of cities apply their biosolids to land. Municipalities not participating in land application either incinerate or landfill their biosolids. The biosolids are economically important, with added nutrients valued around $225,000. Those savings, along with crop revenue, are funneled back onto the city’s utility fund, saving ratepayer dollars.

TMSF has one more gem to offer: it’s Idaho’s first net-zero energy commercial facility. The facility earned a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification integrating almost 200 solar panels for electricity, geothermal for temperature control, and grey water to clean the farm equipment. Most design features went into the building’s exterior to maximize energy efficiency. The facility’s first year goal was to attain net-zero energy use status. However, the facility is so efficient it produced 160 percent of the energy needs for the site. Boise aims to have all new city buildings at net-zero by 2030.

The city compost program is also sited at TMSF. Long dark rows of compost sit cooking on the farm’s edge. In the program’s first year, nearly 50 million pounds of material have been composted, equaling a 40 percent reduction of landfilled material from the year before. With 45-50 years left in the landfill, that’s huge. This is the first fully-permitted city composting program in the state, and by far the largest. A few tips from the composting gurus: throw away produce stickers and don’t compost your dog’s waste.

This kind of dedication and innovation is precisely what we as Idahoans need to embrace and support in the coming years as we continue to work to protect our water, air and natural places, as well as move to a clean energy future. Conservation Voters for Idaho understands that our treasured way of life cannot be sustained without sound investments and smart policies. That is why we are so excited to be working on Clean Energy For All, a nationwide campaign with the goal to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050 to avoid the largest negative impacts of climate change.

The Clean Energy For All campaign in Idaho is an effort to remove barriers to clean energy and create a strong base of support throughout the state. This campaign will move Idaho towards a renewable energy future that creates jobs and grows the economy and gives Idahoans the power to choose clean energy solutions and zero-emission vehicles and creates resiliency and energy security.

I am both proud to live in a city that understands the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainability and I am honored to be doing this work with each and every one of you. I continue to look forward to Idaho’s clean energy future.