FOUR decades ago, when Sid Erwin began his career as an inspector at the Idaho Power Company, a string of new hydroelectric plants was pumping out power faster than locals could buy it. Soon enough, Mr. Erwin recalls, the utility began sending representatives to rural areas, urging farmers to use more electricity when irrigating their crops.
These days, Idaho’s farmers are being paid to stop using power.
Sitting at a cluttered kitchen table in his home, Mr. Erwin — now a farmer himself — waved a bill showing that last July he received a credit of more than $700 from Idaho Power for turning off his power-guzzling pumps on some summer afternoons.
“It’s a total turnabout,” says Mr. Erwin, who lives in Bruneau, about 60 miles southeast of here. “I’m almost 70 years old and this has been a lifelong education to me.”
As saving energy becomes a rallying cry for utilities and the government, Idaho Power is in the vanguard. Since 2004, it has been paying farmers like Mr. Erwin to cut power use at crucial times, resulting in drop-offs of as much as 5.6 percent of peak power demand.
In a related program, it pays homeowners to turn off their air-conditioners briefly at times of high demand.