Idaho has few conventional energy resources but is rich in renewable energy potential.

Idaho’s river valleys, which offered passage through rugged mountains for early settlers, today give the state a wealth of hydroelectric and wind energy resources. The plains flanking the Snake River stretch all the way across southern Idaho, from the Teton Mountains on the Wyoming border to Hells Canyon at the Oregon border. The valleys of the Snake River and its tributaries are home to most of Idaho’s population, more than one-third of whom live in the Boise area, while vast stretches of the state remain wilderness. Idaho’s altitude varies from mountains more than 12,000 feet high to river valleys just a few hundred feet above sea level. Temperatures across the state range just as widely, from a record high of 118℉ to a record low of 60℉ below zero.

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. Those clouds typically produce plentiful mountain snowfall, which feeds fast-running rivers for hydroelectric power and supplies irrigation for the lowlands in spring and summer, when the weather turns hot and dry. Idaho, also known as the Gem State, is rich in minerals like silver and phosphate, but the state has few reserves of fossil fuels. Nearly three-fourths of the energy Idahoans consume comes from out of state. Idaho’s energy potential lies in its substantial hydropower, wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass resources.

Idaho’s energy consumption per capita is near the national average, but the state’s energy intensity (energy consumption per real dollar of gross domestic product) is well above the national median. The industrial sector leads energy consumption, followed by the transportation sector. Agriculture, forest products, and mining have long been important to Idaho’s economy. Electronics manufacturing, food processing, and tourism are growing economic sectors.

Renewable Energy

Quick Facts

  • Idaho is rich in renewable energy resources; the state’s volcanic formations provide substantial geothermal energy potential.
  • In 2015, 75% of Idaho’s utility-scale net electricity generation came from renewable energy resources, and Idaho was tied with West Virginia for the sixth lowest average electricity prices in the United States.
  • In 2015, Idaho’s in-state net electricity generation equaled 66% of the state’s total electric industry retail sales. The remainder came from other states and international imports.
  • Hydroelectric power supplied 54% of net electricity generation in Idaho in 2015, the fourth largest share in the nation. Drought reduced hydropower’s share from the average 74% of the previous 10 years.
  • Idaho’s wind generation provided 16% of utility-scale net electricity generation in 2015.

Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon dam system is the nation’s largest privately owned hydroelectric facility.

Idaho typically gets more than four-fifths of its net electricity generation from renewable resources. Most of the state’s renewable power comes from hydroelectric sources, and 4 of Idaho’s 10 largest generating facilities run on hydropower. The three dams making up Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon complex on the Snake River constitute the nation’s largest privately owned hydroelectric generating facility.

Idaho has no renewable portfolio standard (RPS) or other renewable requirements, but its three major electric utilities do 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.

Although a relatively small percentage of the state’s land area is available for wind development, Idaho has substantial wind energy potential along the Snake River and on mountain ridges across the state. The first commercial wind energy project began operating in 2006. In 2015, wind provided one-sixth of the state’s net electricity generation from 15 utility-scale wind facilities with a total capacity of 973 megawatts. All were located in the Snake River Valley. 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.

Idaho has no utility-scale solar generation, but distributed (customer-sited small-scale) solar photovoltaic and solar thermal installations are widely used in the state’s rural areas. The state offers low-interest loans and tax deductions for small-scale solar facilities. The Idaho town of Sandpoint is first in the nation to test solar road panels that light up lane markings and heat to melt snow.

Idaho’s volcanic landscape has a wealth of hot springs and other geothermal resources that have long been used for aquaculture, greenhouses, spas, resorts, and city district heating. The state has some of the best geothermal potential in the nation. In 2015, Idaho was one of eight states with operating geothermal power capacity and one of seven with commercial-scale geothermal electricity generation. Idaho’s sole geothermal generating plant, a 13-megawatt facility, is built on the site of the federal government’s first geothermal experiment, at Raft River in the state’s southeast. Geothermal development in Idaho may be limited by availability of groundwater, since utility-scale geothermal technology is water-intensive. Idaho gets about 4% of its net electricity generation from biomass, primarily waste and co-generation from the wood products and agricultural industries.


Renewable resources account for a larger share of net electricity generation in Idaho than in all but three other states.

Hydroelectric power plants dominate Idaho electricity generation, typically supplying between three-fifths and four-fifths of in-state net generation, except in recent years when drought has cut hydroelectric generation’s share to a little over half. The balance of Idaho’s net electricity generation is supplied by natural gas, wind, biomass, geothermal, and coal generation. Idaho has among the lowest average electricity rates in the nation, mainly because of its large proportion of hydroelectric generation. About one-third of Idaho households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating.

Idaho typically consumes one-third more electricity than it generates and depends on power supplied via interstate transmission lines from out-of-state resources owned by Idaho utilities and other suppliers. Those power lines have grown increasingly congested, and projects are under way to expand capacity both to supply Idaho and to transport power from other mountain states to the West Coast markets. Most new generating capacity planned in the region is natural gas-fired, but the transmission projects also aim to enable development of the region’s renewable resources.

The Idaho National Laboratory, a federal nuclear power and energy research center, is the state’s second largest employer and the site of the first U.S. nuclear electricity generation in 1951. The state has no commercial nuclear power plants.

Natural Gas

Drilling in Idaho’s southwest is beginning to produce natural gas.

Commercial natural gas production is being developed in southwestern Idaho, but output so far has been small. Idaho consumers receive nearly all their natural gas supply by pipeline from Canada and from other western states. 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. About 85% of the natural gas entering Idaho continues on to Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. The industrial sector is Idaho’s largest natural gas-consuming sector, followed by the electric power sector and the residential sector. Slightly more than half of Idaho households use natural gas as their primary energy source for home heating.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (Nov 2016)

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