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Energy office reveals second non-publicized meeting on Idaho energy policy

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Idaho’s state energy office has posted an item on its web site that shows it held yet another non-publicized meeting of its Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance to discuss important state energy issues, but the notice wasn’t made public until four months after the meeting, so for the second time in four months the public was left in the dark.

The state Office of Energy Resources (OER) is involved in planning Idaho’s response to the recently released federal Clean Power Plan requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants, as well as preliminary discussions on the expected update to the 2012 Idaho Energy Plan. After not meeting since June 2014, OER’s Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance (ISEA) also met on Aug. 17 in Idaho Falls. The public was not notified of either meeting, and in fact OER didn’t post the agendas for the two meetings until less than two weeks ago, long after the meetings were held.

As the Snake River Alliance described in our Sept. 3 Idaho Energy Update, the meetings were for all practical purposes private due to what OER said was an inadvertent lack of public notification. The Alliance regularly attends ISEA meetings, but few if anybody outside of OER and ISEA even knew they were taking place. The minutes for the May 5 ISEA meeting show there were no members of the public in attendance other than the ISEA board and its invited presenters and utility and state agency representatives. There are no minutes yet for the Aug. 17 meeting.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created ISEA in 2007 as “Idaho’s primary mechanism to engage in seeking options for and enabling advanced energy production, energy efficiency, and energy business in the State of Idaho.” It is charged with providing policy direction and planning to increase the state of Idaho’s production of renewable and sustainable energy, and identifying “new and innovative means to increase production of energy in Idaho.” There is no environmental or other public interest group representation on the ISEA Board.

Both OER and the ISEA received some notoriety in 2011, when the Idaho Legislature asked it to freshen data and other statistics in the Idaho Energy Plan, first approved by the Legislature in 2007. ISEA went several steps further, delving into substantive energy policy matters, unwinding many of the 2007 plan’s goals and recommendations, and watering it down considerably.

Aside from the 19-member ISEA’s Board of Directors that includes representatives from most of Idaho’s regulated utilities, the Idaho National Laboratory, and various state offices, ISEA also includes several “task forces” that spent months looking into everything from wind, solar and geothermal to energy efficiency, transportation and other matters.

The volunteer task forces created extensive reports and forwarded them – with scores of recommendations on how Idaho can improve its energy policies – to the ISEA board. Then, in a jaw-dropping meeting observed by the Snake River Alliance (but no other members of the public), the ISEA board methodically rejected the overwhelming number of its own task forces’ recommendations. The result, which eventually became Idaho’s 2012 Energy Plan, contains a wealth of valuable factual information. But between the ISEA board’s shredding of the task force reports and then further assaults by certain legislators, a plan emerged that, predictably, was scrubbed of many meaningful policies, recommendations, and direction on how to modernize Idaho’s energy infrastructure. The Alliance and dozens of others objected to the development of the 2012 Energy Plan being entrusted to the ISEA board and its utility members – any one of whom had veto power over any of the task force recommendations, which is how so many of those recommendations wound up on the cutting room floor. The Alliance appeared more than once before the legislative committees overseeing the plan’s development, and submitted detailed comments on how the Energy Plan rewrite went awry.

Some lawmakers told OER and ISEA its process lacked adequate transparency and public involvement. Which makes what happened on May 5 and again on Aug. 17 doubly confounding, as there was no notice of either meeting and as a result no opportunity public participation. An innocuous item was placed on OER’s calendar page for the Aug. 17 meeting, but nothing on its “meetings” page. While it is likely that, inasmuch as OER or ISEA were not created by state statute, they are not bound by Idaho’s open meeting requirements, these two meetings seem to have violated the spirit of Idaho’s open meeting law.

Since members of the public didn’t attend these meetings, and since meeting minutes lack detail, we don’t know precisely what was discussed and by whom. And that’s no small thing. Idaho is trying to figure out its response to the new EPA emissions rule on coal plants, and in Idaho several out-of-state coal plants, which will be impacted by the rule, also provide about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Idaho. Also on the agenda (which remember, the Alliance obtained after the Aug. 17 meeting and after asking for it, since at the time it was not on OER’s website), was a discussion of “Energy issues and the 2016 Idaho Legislative Session” with the chairs of the House and Senate committees that oversee energy issues. Here’s a sampling of agenda items, now that the agendas have finally been made public:

  • “Idaho Energy Plan – if requested by the Legislature, OER and ISEA will provide updated information for the Idaho Energy Plan.” (May 5 meeting)
  • “Discussion on electric vehicles.” (May 5)
  • “Discussion on which fuel types may be better for air quality.” (May 5)
  • “Review of the final (coal plant) rule released by the EPA on August 3, 2015,” and “Preliminary discussion on Idaho’s strategy moving forward.” (Aug. 17)
  • “Idaho Energy Plan update.” (Aug 17)
  • “Energy issues and the 2016 Idaho Legislative Session” with Senate State Affairs Chairman Sen. Curt McKenzie and House Energy, Environment and Technology Chairman Rep. Jeff Thompson. (August 17)

It is not known whether, when or where the ISEA board’s next meeting is scheduled.

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