Everyone agrees that the roads in Blaine County are currently terrible. Various decisions over time have led up to the extreme disrepair today, but now we can clearly see that something on a big scale must be done very soon. Patching some potholes here and there is not going to be enough of a fix. It is going to be inconvenient and expensive, and we might have to pay for it ourselves directly rather than waiting for the ITD’s schedule.
Similarly to our road situation, Blaine County has made many other decisions over time that are going to catch up with us in a big way unless we change our direction. Many of us moved here for the skiing. I know I did, right out of college as it was the best damned ski mountain in North America. This was a seasonal ski town with no summer business. Businesses made all their profits for the year over the two weeks at Christmas and one week over Presidents’ Day spring break. Some people still believe that skiing tourism will continue to drive our economy. Well, there are two data points we cannot ignore; one, we won’t be able to count on winters in the future and two, there is $10 billion of real estate owned in this County.
$10 billion of real estate owned tells us that many people here are not making their living on the ski industry, but in the selling of, building on, investing in, and maintaining that real estate, and that many people live here for reasons other than skiing – it’s a safe place to raise a family, people want an early active retirement in healthy air, the deserts are too hot in the summer for all the retired boomers who have moved there. But if the new climate abnormal makes it not so attractive to live here with smoky summers and fire evacuations, folks will move to somewhere else.
Through taxes, we as a community underwrite marketing of ourselves as a ski destination and subsidize air travel here. Great snow year we had this last winter, but within eight to ten years, we probably will not be able to ski to the bottom of the mountain as snow levels rise to higher elevations with the changing new abnormal. Can’t make snow if it is too warm. If there is no snow and there are smoke-filled Augusts and constant fire evacuations, I don’t care if the air fare is free, and the magazine ads are glossy, people won’t want to be here.
For years in Idaho, we have relied on 50% coal fired power to pump water up the hill to make snow when it didn’t snow and bused our visitors to the mountain in diesel-powered buses. We have put our heads in the sand and have relied on electricity arriving on a couple of wires from hundreds of miles away from coal-fired power plants based in Nevada, Oregon, and Montana. A large ice storm in 2009 brought down two transmission lines many miles apart and the power outage caught us flat-footed, without any backup generators. Extreme weather is now the new abnormal whether it is extreme moisture events where avalanches close the highways out of here, or hot dry weather that intensifies drought and fuels fires in beetle-killed trees.
We have to face our new reality and undertake now those decisions that will add up. We have to be self-sufficient. We have had cheap power for a long time but now each of us have to plant the Victory Gardens of 2019 to do all that we can in this battle; from changing a light bulb to a more energy efficient one, to adding insulation to our homes, to installing smart thermostats, to switching to an electric car, perhaps even to driving less and taking the bus more. Mountain Rides’ successful grant applications for electric buses is a wonderful first step. If we want winters, we need to prioritize building as much solar as we possibly can to not only power those buses but to lessen our reliance on the coal-fired power that kills our snow climate.
We need a government which leads. Blaine County itself needs to invest in solar plants and also provide citizens a way to be recipients of community solar. This local generation of power will pay off in spades as we can rely on making our own clean power right close to where we need to use it. Blaine County needs to invest in batteries backup at our substations rather than waiting for Idaho Power to come around to today’s technology. Blaine County needs to install microgrids which island and survive the next power line breaks in the Southern Idaho desert. The County needs to provide financial incentives to its citizens to undertake energy efficiency and solar installation, not just legislate tougher building codes. It is time for us to put the tax dollars that come off of that $10 billion of real estate to invest in our future – to save our winters and our future.