After nearly a year in the works, Idaho’s largest electric utility has filed its “integrated resource plan” to the state Public Utilities Commission, forecasting how it thinks it will meet customer electricity demand for the coming 20 years.
This every-other-year IRP is far different from those before it. For the first time, it projects an early retirement of two coal-fired power plants in Nevada in 2025, about a decade earlier than planned. It would replace those 280 megawatts of power largely with a new high-voltage transmission line from Idaho Power’s Hemingway substation in Owyhee County to near Boardman, OR, in a region with substantial wind generation resources. It also does not envision acquiring new energy generation for the next 10 years, although that could change if the Boardman-Hemingway transmission line, originally expected to be built by now, is delayed beyond 2025.
Idaho Power reviewed 23 possible “portfolios” to assess their costs, risks, and other factors. Those portfolios ranged from looking at early coal plant retirements, as is happening nationwide, to the status quo and some anticipating the early retirement of Idaho Power’s large coal generation assets in Wyoming ahead of schedule. Many of the portfolios contain varying amounts of non-generation, or demand-side management resources such as the air-conditioner cycling program in which many customers participate. Some include additional natural gas power plants and some anticipate additional new residential and larger or utility-scale solar generation. In the end, Idaho Power determined that:
“The 2015 IRP analysis indicates favorable results for the B2H transmission line and the early retirement of the North Valmy Power Plant. The analysis also suggests a linkage between the B2H line and the early retirement of North Valmy. Acceleration in the completion of the transmission line could bring about a corresponding acceleration in scheduling for North Valmy retirement.”
Unlike in the past, this IRP no longer looks at possible greenhouse emissions taxes or other carbon reduction mechanisms, using instead the far more likely imposition of coal plant emissions reductions expected to be required by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan under the federal Clean Air Act. And it would shrink the size of the proposed new Shoshone Falls hydroelectric power plant from 50 megawatts to 5 MW or less.
Coming up: The PUC will issue a notice acknowledging that it received Idaho Power’s IRP, and will also announce a public comment period, which will likely run for several weeks. The PUC does not “approve” these nonbinding utility IRPs. Rather, it “accepts” the plans and then monitors how utilities follow them or adjust them. We will provide tips on how to comment on the IRP soon.
Given the upheaval in the utility industry as it addresses coal-fired generation issues, one issue that is certain to be addressed as Idaho Power’s 2017 IRP process begins will be how the company plans to deal with coal plant environmental regulations as they impact two large Wyoming coal plant units – Jim Bridger Units 1 and 2 – that it co-owns with utility giant PacifiCorp. We fought hard against installing these hugely expensive retrofits for two other Bridger coal units, which you can expect to pay for in coming years. The odds of the utilities making the same kinds of investments for the remaining units are growing in our favor!