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Kiki Tidwell Focuses on Energy Issues
Tuesday, October 6, 2020


It was a “once-in-a-lifetime, 100-year decision” that prompted Kiki Tidwell to run for Blaine County Commissioner against Commission Chair Jacob Greenberg.

She saw red over Idaho Power’s proposal to run a redundant transmission line through the Wood River Valley.

Idaho Power says it’s needed to provide backup power to prevent another Christmas Eve surprise like the one that knocked out power coming into the Wood River Valley several years ago. But Tidwell says they’re proposing to spend $68 million of taxpayers’ money on “a non-solution.”

“I know there is a better solution today,” said Tidwell, who has spent 20 years investing in energy solutions. “Every other state is installing non-wires solutions that have proven to be cheaper in many cases and more reliable in the face of the new normal of wildfires and extreme ice storms. I’m saying there’s a better way with batteries.”

Tidwell grew up in Oahu but left the warm sandy beaches of Hawaii frequently during winter to go to Aspen where her parents owned Chuck’s Steakhouse restaurant chain.

Having worked in her parents’ restaurants since she was 10, she studied business with an emphasis on hotel and restaurant management at the University of Denver. An avid skier, she moved to Sun Valley  for “the best skiing in the country” in 1981. And here she started Riley’s Run Pizza—the first pizza place in the Wood River Valley to deliver pizza.

Frustrated with the seasonal nature of the business in a mountain resort community, she sold the restaurant to work as an office manager for Engelmann Design, computerizing their office.

In the ensuing years she became director of development for the Hornocker Wildlife Institute in charge of raising a $1.5 million annual budget for international wildlife conservation. And she helped her then-husband Bruce Tidwell started the Building Materials Thrift store, which recycled building materials left over from construction projects.

She became involved in renewable energy 20 years ago, serving as a board member of the Northwest Energy Angels and making low-interest loans to such projects as the Wood River Inn’s solar project through her family foundation.

She even netted a second home in the Bay area, thinking it would give her a front row seat to learn more about clean technology that she could bring home to Idaho.

“I thought I could provide income for young people in small rural towns looking for work. Idaho is very behind,” she said.

She helped fight Idaho Power’s effort to build a coal-fired power plant in southern Idaho. And she has lobbied the Blaine County commissioners to reject Idaho Power’s transmission line as proposed.

“I figured if I can’t lobby them to do anything maybe I can be a decision maker. Since, I’ve realized there’s waste in the budget. I’ve realized it’s bigger than transmission line and threw in my hat in.”

Tidwell got off to an extraordinarily early start, officially threw her hat in the ring in April 2019. She's been attending the Tuesday commissioner meetings for 16 months, her presence noted in the meeting minutes.

“I would go to the PUC and say it’s not our responsibility to pay for underground the transmission lines. If they want to put them in our scenic corridor it’s their responsibility. And we can tap entities like to finance microgrids and backup batteries.”

Tidwell has called on the county commissioners to reduce their $120,000 salary-and-benefit package by at least a 30 percent to keep cash reserves from being drained by the economic hit from the pandemic. Noting that the number of COVID cases has been surging, with more than 80 new cases reported during the past couple weeks, she says she believes contact tracing may only be reaching half as many people as it needs to.

“There may be hundreds of people are walking around who have been exposed but don’t know it. Right now, you can get a test at Albertson’s that costs $139. The county passed a $30 million budget but didn’t earmark any money for COVID prevention. I’d earmark funds for testing for those who can’t pay for tests. And asymptomatic people—we should test them. It would be helpful if businesses had 15-minute tests so they could know everyone that walked into their school or movie theater was not positive. You have to make it easier.”

Tidwell is critical of the commissioners’ part in a lawsuit against the Flying Heart Ranch homeowners for their efforts to limit public parking for those accessing the Big Wood River in their area.

“The county is spending money on picking fights. Its legal budget has gone from $720,000 to $1.2 million. That means something else gets cut, and what’s getting cut is road repairs. There’s talk of a bond to fix our roads, but that just means more taxes for residents.”

The County needs to educate people about public access, she added.

“We have to tell all these new people coming in that it’s different here. They have to learn not to leave trash in public access areas. They have to learn not to leave out garbage that might attract bears.”

Tidwell has taken some heat for objecting to an affordable housing duplex built at the end of Buttercup Road north of Hailey. She objected to it, she said, not because it involved affordable housing but because the county issued a building permit on a parcel designated for Public Use Open Space Recreation Use.

Any other developer would have had to amend the Planned Unit Development through an extensive process, addressing such questions as why a septic system should be allowed on .61 acres for two residences, she added.

Tidwell says she would tackle the affordable housing crisis in Blaine County by advocating for stipends to be paid to property owners to change from short-term rentals to long-term rentals through temporary deed restrictions.

She says she likes to think she’s part of the solution, thanks to 16 apartment units she’s building with others in Hailey. Silver River Place is billed as workforce housing, not affordable housing. But she says it will give people a fair deal if she can rent out a two-room apartment for $1,200 versus the $1,500 it might cost elsewhere. Its solar panels will lower utility rates, she added.

“I hope a project like ours will inspire others to build. The key is putting density in cities and working to get private investors,” she said.

Of course, all the affordable housing in the world won’t matter if Sun Valley doesn’t have snow at the bottom of the ski resort in eight years, said Tidwell.

“We need to address our role in climate change because a resort like ours is dependent on climate. We should have community solar farms on Buttercup Road, at the Ohio Gulch transfer station, near sewer plants and on Poverty Flats. Idaho Power says their goal is 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, but they’re not doing anything to get there. We have great solar here. We have great wind in Idaho.”

Tidwell added that the county has big fiscal decisions to make about where growth is going to impact the county.

“I like to say that venture capitalists like myself think about where the hockey puck is going next, not just where we are now.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Learn about Jacob Greenberg, whom Kiki Tidwell is challenging, in the Monday, Oct. 5, edition of Eye on Sun Valley. Early in-person voting starts Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Blaine County Courthouse. The election follows on Nov. 3.

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