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The Idaho Public Utilities Commission Staff, Idaho Power and all intervening parties (including the Snake River Alliance) have agreed to a hearing schedule on Idaho Power’s requested changes to the net metering program. This agreement will be submitted to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for its review and approval. The agreed-upon schedule sets a technical hearing date in March, 2018, which means that no changes in the program can occur until at least April, 2018.  We believe the Commission will also schedule and hold a public hearing to allow anyone to provide their testimony on this issue and become part of the record of the case.

Idaho Power has petitioned the IPUC for permission to create a new class of customers, requesting a separation between homeowners who installed solar systems before December 31, 2017 and those that installed solar systems after that date. The agreed-upon schedule means that people installing rooftop solar in the Idaho Power service area don’t face a December 31 deadline.

This case is attracting a lot of attention as there are 11 intervening parties and hundreds of written comments already submitted — the vast majority of which oppose Idaho Power’s request.The Snake River Alliance joined with the Northwest Energy Coalition to intervene to protect individuals who generate electricity via solar, wind, or water from being forced into a different electric rate class. This rate class could penalize users/generators and reduce their rate of return.

We at the Snake River Alliance feel that Idaho Power does not have the interests of all its customers in mind with this filing. Nearly 1,000 people contacted us in the past 18 months of our Solarize the Valley program, looking to minimize their dependence on Idaho Power. Our local business partners, AltEnergy and Bluebird Solar and Light, are currently helping many of those citizens invest in solar. Idaho Power’s filing of its’ case had placed a cloud of uncertainty over the program and Idaho’s solar installation businesses.

The Alliance is represented in the case by Boise attorney John Hammond who works at the firm Fisher Pusch LLP. We will be submitting written and oral testimony from members and experts. The filings in this case can be viewed on the Commission’s webpage at http://www.puc.idaho.gov/fileroom/cases/summary/IPCE1713.html.

What You Can Do: We ask that you stand with us to defend usage of renewable energy in Idaho.  You can send your comments into the IPUC via postal service, making sure you use case number IPC-E-17-13 and address your comments to the IPUC Commissioners:

Paul Kjellander, Kristine Raper, and Eric Anderson

Idaho Public Utilities Commission
P O Box 83720
Boise, Idaho 83720-0074
FAX: (208) 334-3762

You can also use the Idaho PUC website by going to this link: http://www.puc.idaho.gov/forms/casecomment.aspx

Paste the case number # IPC-E-17-13 into the form and submit your comments.

Some sample talking points could include:

1) Support equal access to the electric grid for all customers, including those with solar or wind power
2) Idaho Power should add more options for customers to generate and use green energy, not restrict options.
3) Idaho Power should be fairly compensated for access to the grid by all customers, not just those installing solar
4) The public needs full information on the benefits of having distributed energy and more solar as well as the costs.

“Net Metering” helps keep rooftop solar affordable. Idaho has strong rules allowing customers to go solar without installing batteries or more expensive “off grid” systems. Net metering customers pay a minimum of $5 a month to stay on the grid. They receive full credit for the solar energy they generate for use when it is cloudy.

Idaho has protected net metering in the past. Three years ago, Idaho Power proposed to raise the rate for net metering customers to $25 per month. The Snake River Alliance and other groups intervened in the case. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission held hearings. After a huge public outcry, the proposal was turned down.

New proposal casts uncertainty. Idaho Power’s current proposal throws uncertainty on future net metering rates. A new customer class would be set up after January 2018. These “second-class” solar customers would pay higher fees or get fewer credits at some point in the future. In the meantime, all net metering customers will pay the current rate.

Net metering is not in jeopardy in Idaho. You have the right to self generate solar or wind energy and reduce reliance on Idaho Power’s grid. The Snake River Alliance, local solar companies and other public interest groups are working together to protect net metering. Public hearings are expected. The process will take several months and will probably result in more studies. Studies need to fairly show the benefits of solar power as well as the costs. It will be many more months (or maybe years) before actual rate changes are proposed.

Idaho Power has the right to charge a fair rate for access to the grid. If $5 per month is not enough, a full study is needed to determine the cost of servicing all customers. The company’s current proposal singles out solar customers while thousands of other customers also pay the monthly minimum. A “general rate case” process is the appropriate forum to establish a new rate class and new rates.

Make Your Voice Heard.

You can help save Idaho’s net metering program. Join the Snake River Alliance today, or make a donation towards our net metering legal defense fund. Send comments to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, IPUC Docket No. IPC-E-17-13.

The Snake River Alliance took action today to protect the future of rooftop solar in Idaho. The Alliance intervened in an Idaho Power request to change the net metering program for people who generate green energy at home. Although this first proposal would not change rates (it would just establish a new customer class) we expect that much more is at stake.

Solar is good for Idaho’s electric grid. It generates power where we need it and when we need it the most. It fits our communities in a way carbon-spewing gas turbines and coal plants never will. It is the way of the future. For the first time ever, in March 2017, solar and wind provided a monthly average of 10% of America’s energy.

An estimated 1,500 Idaho Power customers use the net metering program to manage power generated by their own solar panels or wind generators. These customers get energy credits to use later but still pay monthly fees to be connected to the grid. The company eventually wants to increase the fees and change the terms and conditions of those credits.

The company is following a well-used industry play book chipping away at net metering programs state by state. This has cast a shadow on the solar industry in Arizona and Nevada, at least temporarily. The fight is now in Utah as well. Just last week, Utah took action to decrease the value of solar power, but grandfathered all existing customers until 2026.

Idaho’s net metering program is not expected to change right away. Just in the last 18 months, the Alliance’s Solarize the Valley campaign has helped 75 more families install rooftop solar panels and many more will be hooked up by the end of the year. Last year, the Solarize the Valley program added $1 million to our local economy.

We are pleased to be intervening before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission in partnership with the Northwest Energy Coalition. The coalition brings more valuable technical expertise to our fight as we work alongside other groups such as the Idaho Conservation League, the Idaho Clean Energy Association, the Sierra Club and Vote Solar.

The Alliance is standing up for your right to generate green energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. To us, it is a freedom thing.

In the next decade, thousands more Idahoans will choose to install solar panels or wind generators of their own free will. These people should not have to pay extra fees and discriminatory rates just because they generate some of their own power. This should be facilitated by our energy utilities – not penalized.

So why do utility companies oppose solar? Because regulators haven’t given them a way to make money off of it. If rate structures were changed to reward Idaho Power for the number of happy customers served it would improve the company’s bottom line

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission needs to hear from you regarding the future of net metering. No date has been set yet for public hearings. In the meantime, you can be heard online at http://www.puc.idaho.gov/forms/casecomment.aspx

Points to make:

  • Make your comments in reference to case IPC-E_17-13.
  • Idaho Power deserves a fair rate for providing grid services to all customers, solar customers should not be singled out.
  • The 2016 Solarize the Valley campaign generated over $1 million dollars and supports local green jobs.
  • We need a full study of the costs and benefits here in Idaho, before changing our effective net metering program.

For more information refer to IPC-E-17-13 – IDAHO POWER–NEW SCHEDULES FOR CUSTOMERS WITH ON-SITE GENERATION

The Snake River Alliance members, board, and staff are deeply saddened by the passing of former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus. He was a friend, a leader, an ally and inspiration.

I first met Governor Andrus in 1984 shortly after the death of Senator Frank Church. Our conversation was clouded by grief for his dear friend. He said Church’s death had left him – and all of us – with a heavier responsibility to protect Idaho’s wilderness and wild places.

He carried that weight proudly and with great good humor. Even when he didn’t win, he was clear about his goals and respectful of his adversaries. Today, we feel that weight shift from his broad shoulders to ours.

In the 1980s and 1990s Governor Andrus was a powerful spokesperson for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead. He often made time to talk with younger conservation leaders about the plight of our fish and how to restore them. Always humble, he was quick to point out that just having the facts on your side wasn’t enough – and that he was only one governor from a small state with little political power.

Beatrice Brailsford, the Alliance’s nuclear program director, said, “In the 1970s, Governor Andrus’ efforts going against the federal government to stop nuclear waste from coming to Idaho were unprecedented across the West. He demanded an end to waste coming from Rocky Flats, Colorado, and set a public precedent that people living around nuclear weapons sites could fight back.”

In one of my last meetings with Governor Andrus he was proud of his conservation legacy because he had “put a lot of hay in the barn.” But his one regret was that as Governor he hadn’t been able to fully protect the Snake River aquifer from the threat of nuclear waste. It saddened him to know that all of the liquid waste in Idaho would not be “secured and above ground” in his lifetime.

History won’t forget him. We must celebrate his conservation successes such as the Alaska Lands Act, the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness, and the legal victories that led to Idaho’s 1995 Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement.

It is the things he didn’t accomplish in his lifetime that I can’t forget. Our wild places and wild rivers still need help. The Department of Energy still needs to know that Idaho will not be a dumping ground for nuclear materials.

Going forward, the Snake River Alliance will do our part. The goal of our “Don’t Waste Idaho” campaign is to keep Idaho safe from nuclear waste. Working together, we must assure our current political leaders make the best choices to protect Idaho.

The Alliance is so much stronger because of Governor Andrus’ life and legacy and for that we are very grateful.

Happy Trails, Cece!

On August 11, 2017, the Los Angeles Times revealed that, without significant reform, the Department of Energy (DOE) will miss its 2035 deadline for getting all its spent fuel out of Idaho. The LA Times article is based on a report by Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a longtime Alliance ally. DOE documents he got through the Freedom of Information Act show DOE is knowingly making the situation even worse while leaving the public and the State of Idaho in the dark.

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has 26 metric tons of sodium-bonded spent nuclear fuel left over from operating the Experimental Breeder Reactor II. It contains metallic sodium, which reacts violently with both air and water. DOE argues that the fuel can’t be put in a geologic repository unless the sodium is removed.

INL chose to remove the sodium through pyroprocessing, a technology that poses a proliferation threat because it can separate nuclear bomb ingredients out of spent fuel. Despite opposition from the Alliance, UCS, and other environmental and peace groups, INL started pyroprocessing in 2000.

As a waste management effort, it has been a disaster right from the start.

Early estimates pegged 2013 as the completion date for treating the sodium-bonded spent fuel. But INL admitted in an internal document that it wouldn’t even hit 2035, the deadline in the Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement. INL’s admission included a comment that “according to [name redacted] EBR-II elements are not subject to the SA [Settlement Agreement].”

That is simply not true.

The FOIAed documents reveal even more damning information. Pyroprocessing spent fuel creates high-level waste, and 2035 is also the deadline for all high-level waste to be ready to leave Idaho. That’s one of the reasons everyone has been so worried about the ongoing problems treating the liquid waste in INL’s buried tanks.

Some of pyroprocessing’s high-level waste is in a ceramic form. But the equipment to make the ceramic has been moved to make room for pyroprocessing research for South Korea. The proposed research would use spent fuel from a nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.

If the State of Idaho waives its ban on commercial spent fuel and allows in the Byron fuel, it will also impede efforts to get high-level waste ready to leave Idaho.

The State must protect the best interests of Idahoans and demand that DOE act in good faith and meet its commitments to us. We must have a workable path forward for INL’s sodium-bonded fuel and successful treatment of high-level waste.