April 27 ID Energy Update
A huge proposed wind project south of Twin Falls was derailed after its primary utility developer pulled out due to new delays caused by more thorough reviews into the project’s impact on sage grouse. Meanwhile, the PUC will take your comments on a rate hike request by Idaho Power to offset higher-than-expected power costs. And if you’re interested in seeing what the Legislature did to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan, the new 2012 version has been posted on the Office of Energy Resources’ web site. For these updates and a look at the energy calendar ahead, please read on. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: China Mountain Wind Project in Doubt After Utility Pulls Out
What would have been one of Idaho’s largest wind generation projects has been derailed, perhaps for good, after its primary utility developer pulled out due to growing concerns over the project’s potential impacts on sage grouse.
NV Energy, which according to news reports has spent $6 million on the China Mountain Wind Project proposed by Renewable Energy Systems Americas (RES Americas) for land south of Twin Falls and into northern Nevada, notified Nevada regulators that it was terminating its participation in the project.
China Mountain was to be built on about 30,000 acres of land controlled mostly by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as well as the state of Idaho and private landowners. BLM, which is conducting the environmental reviews for the project, said it needed more time to see how the wind farm might impact sage grouse, which are under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a possible endangered species list candidate.
“It’s important that renewable energy projects be developed in the right way and in the right places,” Idaho BLM Director Steve Ellis said. “In consideration of our national sage grouse interim management policy, we believe it is wise to defer continued work on the project so that it can be considered in the context of, and informed by, the analysis and decisions in the Idaho Resource Management Plan revisions.”
Ellis said BLM expects to complete its re-evaluations dealing with sage grouse in 2013, while the Fish and Wildlife service expects to complete its re-evaluation in 2015. BLM said the land that would have been disturbed by the project includes much of the sage grouse habitat in the western United States.
China Mountain would have consisted of about 170 wind turbines. Most of its generation output would have gone to Nevada and NV Energy customers, although there had been some discussion about an Idaho utility perhaps buying some of the power. Nevada has a state law requiring electric utilities to provide a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy projects; Idaho has no such requirement.
For more information on the China Mountain project, visit the BLM’s project website at http://www.blm.gov/id/st/en/prog/planning/china_mountain_wind.html
II: PUC Opens Public Comments on Idaho Power Cost Adjustment to Raise Rates
The Public Utilities Commission is taking public comments through May 15 on Idaho Power’s annual “power cost adjustment,” which is used to adjust rates to account for higher or lower costs of providing power to customers. If approved, this application would increase customer rates by an average 5.1 percent, or 3.8 percent for residential customers.
Past power cost adjustments (PCAs) have adjusted rates primarily to reflect water conditions that impact Idaho Power’s hydropower system, which accounts for about half the utility’s generation. In plentiful water years, the company’s power costs are relatively lower and can lead to a rebate or credit to customers. In times of scarcer water, the company seeks a surcharge on customers to offset higher power costs because it has to replace the hydropower with more expensive resources. This year, Idaho Power is seeking an additional $43 million through customer rates. Last year, customers saw a 6.5 percent decrease due largely to good water conditions.
What is different this year is Idaho Power’s claim that the bulk of the PCA increase is being driven by requirements that utilities must buy power from small wind projects regardless of whether it needs the power. That argument is denied by the wind generation industry, and the price paid for wind generation is currently the subject of a separate, hotly contested case before the PUC.
Idaho Power said wind contracts under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), which requires utilities to purchase power from smaller providers such as wind farms, are costing an extra $66 million more than it would have otherwise had to pay. However, the price paid for that PURP power is approved by the PUC in the form of contracts submitted by utilities and energy developers.
Wind farm developers counter that their power prices are set for 20 years, which over time makes their energy more than competitive with other resources. They also point to pricey new generation such as Idaho Power’s new Langley Gulch natural gas plant near New Plymouth that will raise rates higher than wind. In the case of the Langley Gulch plant, the company projects it will raise rates by 7.1 percent. The PUC is also taking public comments on the Langley Gulch case through May 30.
For more information on Idaho Power’s application, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-12-17. For the Langley Gulch case, scroll to IPC-E-12-14.
III: Energy Office Posts 2012 Idaho Energy Plan on Web
Legislators spent much of last summer, fall, and winter revising Idaho’s energy plan for better or worse. You can decide by reviewing the new 2012 Energy Plan, which can be found on the home page of the state Office of Energy Resources at www.energy.idaho.gov
Many individuals and groups, including the Snake River Alliance, provided information and testimony to the Legislature’s Interim Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee, which was charged with conducting the revision of the 2007 version of the energy plan. In the end, however, lawmakers mostly adopted a version of the energy plan that was approved by the Office of Energy Resources’ Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance Board of Directors, an entity made up mostly of Idaho utility representatives.
The Snake River Alliance reported in 2011 that most of the recommendations contained in the 2007 plan had not been implemented, or had been only partially implemented. One of the big differences in the 2012 plan was a decision by legislators to dilute the plan by suggesting certain policies be adopted but leaving those decisions to the same entities that did not move the previous plan forward.
On The Agenda:
- The Snake River Alliance will hold its Spring Community Dinner on Friday, May 11, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. This spring’s theme is “Idaho’s Clean Energy Future” and will feature Alliance Clean Energy Organizer Lisa Young, who will share information about where our energy comes from and ways you can help move your utility away from dirty coal-fired power plant and toward energy efficiency. Call the Alliance for more information at (208) 344-9161.
- The U.S. Green Building Council’s Idaho Chapter and Boise Developer Gary Christensen, who built the super-efficient Banner Bank Building in downtown Boise, will hold a series of discussion groups between April 24 and May 5 to explore such issues as what people want to see in energy efficient home construction and how and where such homes should be built. The discussions will take place on the 2nd Floor of the Banner Bank Building in the Conference Center. For information and registration information, email Aubrey@tenthandbannock.com or call (208) 333-7000.
- Climate Impact Day in Boise runs from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, in the Quad between the Business building and Albertsons Library at Boise State University. The international day of action ‘s Boise event features a “teach-in” about the impacts of global climate change on Idaho’s natural resources, especially our rivers. Learn about steps YOU can take to promote clean energy and reduce Idaho’s carbon footprint. The event is co-sponsored by a variety of groups that work on climate change in Idaho, including the BSU Sustainability Club. Teach-in attendees will hear from speakers from the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Rivers United, Snake River Alliance, and Sierra Club. Visit www.climatedots.org for more information.
- The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on April 30 and May 7, 21, and 30. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us. The meetings typically start at 1:30 p.m.