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Idaho Energy Update January 26, 2007

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Idaho Energy Update

January 26, 2007

After making some revisions, the Interim Energy Committee tonight approved Idaho’s new energy plan and will refer it to legislative committees for further review. The edits made by the committee don’t solve the energy plan’s most serious flaws – its failure to address the facility siting problem, affordable energy for low-income Idahoans, and concrete action to confront climate change and Idaho’s role in global warming. The plan does, however, properly prioritize Idaho’s future energy acquisitions by starting with conservation and efficiency, followed by renewable resources, and finally conventional energy resources.

Meanwhile, a House committee approved rules for Idaho to “opt-out” of the federal mercury trading scheme, an important move in the fight against Idaho coal plants. And energy legislation is beginning to move in the Legislature, with more bills expected in the coming days.

See below for more information, and how to learn more about these important issues.
I: State Energy Plan:

The Legislature’s Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee tonight approved by a unanimous voice vote the draft state energy plan, after making a number of minor revisions and also diluting the language calling for a higher profile of the state Energy Division.

Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Curt McKenzie and Rep. George Eskridge said they’ll take the plan to their respective leaderships in the House and Senate, and it will then be subject of a public hearing, probably before the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee and the Senate State Affairs Committee. Details for those hearings probably won’t be known for at least several days, but we expect the hearings to be well attended and that public testimony will be taken. Once we learn the details, we’ll let you know.

For those who haven’t had a chance to review the plan, the draft is posted on the Legislature’s website at www.legislature.idaho.gov, with a link on the home page.

The revisions made today were mostly technical. The exception being a change to the plan’s recommendation that the Idaho Energy Division take a greater role in monitoring implementation of the plan and also tracking energy planning issues in Idaho. Legislators said they met with Gov. Otter’s staff, which objected to that language. It was watered down significantly, essentially saying the Legislature should consult with the governor’s office to discuss the Energy Division’s mission and future. Given that the governor has yet to issue the required executive order to keep the Energy Division in business, and that he has not proposed a state general fund appropriation for the Division, this isn’t a good sign.

The Committee did agree to include two important minority reports in the plan. The first deals with the plan’s failure to address affordable energy issues for low-income Idahoans. The second takes exception to the plan’s failure to adequately address the need for a state energy “facility siting” authority to study the need and determine whether new energy generation facilities such as coal or nuclear power plants are appropriate. The irony is that the lack of a facility siting panel is what led to last year’s fiasco with the Sempra Energy coal plant proposal in Jerome County, and that’s what led to the call for a new state energy plan. The committee’s failure to address this basic issue, other than to propose a voluntary siting board and still leave the final call on permitting coal and other plants, is the committee’s biggest failure after its refusal to seek broad public review and comment on this plan.

We’ll keep you posted on the next developments with the plan, and most important the legislation that will be needed to actually implement it.

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II: House Committee Approves Mercury Rule, Sends to Floor

With no discussion, the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Wednesday approved a proposed Department of Environmental Quality rule for Idaho to “opt out” of the federal mercury trading scheme. Wednesday’s hearing was anticlimactic, with no legislators or members of the public voicing opposition to a rule that, if approved, would prevent the construction of mercury-emitting coal plants in Idaho.

With last year’s two-year moratorium on construction of merchant coal plants now half-complete, the mercury rule is the most potent means to prevent coal plant development. Assuming the rule wins legislative approval, it would take another act of the Legislature for Idaho to reverse its position and participate in the pollution-trading game.

Because Idaho has no coal plants, it would receive no mercury pollution allowances under the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for the Clean Air Mercury Rule. Without mercury allowances, no plants could be built in the state if they emit any mercury. The rule approved by the Board of Environmental Quality last year and this week by the House committee, came on the direction of former Gov. Jim Risch in response to overwhelming opposition in Idaho to coal plants and their toxic, climate-changing emissions.

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III: Energy Bills Start Surfacing in Legislature

The 2007 legislative session is off to a slower start than usual, due in part to the large number of freshmen lawmakers, but a trio of energy-related bills have been introduced and several more are being prepared. We’ll be providing quick weekly updates on the bills in the Idaho Energy Update as the session progresses. You can find the full text of the bills at the Legislative website by going to www.legislature.idaho.gov and clicking the “Legislation” link. Here’s a look at the bills so far:

Facility Siting: SB1041 was introduced in the Senate by the Democratic caucus and has been assigned to the State Affairs Committee. It’s a comprehensive state facility siting bill that would create first a State Energy Facility Planning Committee, which would prepare a State Energy Facility Siting Management Plan, and also create Site Review Panels to review new large energy facilities or expansions to existing ones. The bill can use some work, but it’s a good start in continuing the discussion on siting. Prior attempts to run siting bills in the Legislature have never made it to a hearing, but it’s critical that SB1041 gets a hearing in light of the failure of the Interim Energy Committee to adequately address the siting issue (see above). Barring state review of such projects as the proposed coal and nuclear plants for Idaho would leave the final decision on permitting those plants up to three-member county commissions.

City Ownership of Energy Projects: HB30 was introduced by the Idaho Consumer Owned Utilities Association (ICUA), the Association of Idaho Cities, the co-chairs of the Interim Energy Committee, and other GOP legislators. It was approved by the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee Wednesday and sent to the House floor. It is designed to clear up legal confusion over whether the state’s municipal utilities can enter into long-term power supply contracts or purchase an interest in jointly owned projects such as the Intermountain Power Project No. 3 coal plant in Utah. A handful of Idaho “munis”, including Idaho Falls, Rupert, Burley, and Heyburn, have or plan to attempt to buy power from the IPP3 plant in Utah, which NWEC and other clean-energy Idaho groups oppose.

Idaho Energy Resources Authority Powers: HB32, also proposed by ICUA and the cities, seeks to give the IERA authority to “manage and operate” generation or transmission projects on behalf of its cooperative and municipal members. It was approved by the House EE&T Committee Wednesday and sent to the House floor. The IERA was created in 2005 to provide additional financing options for these small utilities, and NWEC supported its creation. HB32 would also allow IERA to finance distribution projects, which is a welcome addition. However, the bill also would allow the state treasurer to invest state assets in IERA facilities, which conceivably could put Idahoans in the position of helping to finance fossil fuel projects. Provisions to allow IERA to manage projects could also be problematic, given IERA has no full-time staff and given concerns management and operation of consumer-owned utility resources is best handled at the local level, where local utilities are accountable to ratepayers.

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IV: Clean Energy Advocates Distribute 3,000 Fliers Before Gore Speech

Former Vice President Al Gore’s speech Monday night to cap the Frank Church Institute’s conference was a huge success, drawing a sold-out 10,000 to Boise’s Taco Bell Arena. But it was also huge for clean-energy advocates, who distributed 3,000 fliers to attendees. The fliers, signed by several Idaho and regional clean energy and conservation groups, encouraged attendees to the Gore event to let Idaho legislators know we want more public input into the state’s energy plan and that we want lawmakers to seriously consider a statewide energy facility siting authority.

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V: Idaho Power’s Green Power Program Grew in 2006

Idaho Power says enrollment in its voluntary Green Power Program continued its steady growth to a total of 2,291 customers by the end of 2006 – keeping up with its modest growth of about 200 customers a year. While those numbers are somewhat discouraging given the company had 453,000 accounts on its books at year’s end, the good news is that those who are signing up for the program are purchasing more green resources, the company said.

During 2006, participants bought more than 18,900,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity generated by resources certified as green. The company said that’s a 26 percent increase over 2005.

Idaho Power’s Green Power Program, sponsored by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, allows customers to sign up to offset their electricity use with power from green resources such as wind. For instance, signing up for $6 a month is roughly the equivalent of taking a car off the road for a year. For more information on the program, visit www.idahopower.com and click the “Energy Center” link, then “Green Power.”

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On the Agenda:

► Harvesting Clean Energy, a two-day conference that is the Northwest’s premier event bringing agriculture and clean energy production interests together, holds its 7th conference Jan. 28-30 at the DoubleTree Riverside in Boise. For more information, including registration and agenda information and a look at last year’s successful conference in Spokane, go to www.harvestcleanenergy.org/conference.

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