Idaho Energy Update
Jan. 23, 2012
Months in the making, Idaho’s proposed 2012 Energy Plan is being sent to House and Senate committees for expected approval, warts and all. Meanwhile, the would-be developer of a nuclear reactor near the Snake River outside of Payette has run into problems with county planners, putting things on hold pending an appeal. That’s not the least of AEHI’s problems: It’s still embroiled in a high-stakes stock fraud suit brought by federal securities regulators. And Idaho Power may join with another utility and the Bonneville Power Administration in developing the Boardman-Hemingway transmission line from southwest Idaho to the Columbia River. We also have a report on the latest energy facility “siting” bill introduced by state Senate Democrats, complaints by two Twin Falls women over what Idaho Power’s new smart meters are really up to, and the announcement by Exergy Development that it plans 23 more wind farms in Idaho. Finally, the Idaho Legislature’s 2012 session is under way, so we’re resuming our weekly legislative update on things energy taking place at the Statehouse. For more on these and other developments, read on. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Idaho Energy Plan Rewrite All But Over
The long slog that has been the rewrite of the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan neared completion Jan. 10 when the Interim House-Senate Energy Committee approved the plan and passed it on to relevant House and Senate committees for approval.
The committee’s approval of the Energy Plan revisions, after a handful of meetings over the past several months and on the second day of the 2012 legislative session, came as no surprise. What is a surprise is that the panel approved the plan without making it available to the public for review beforehand. The plan has yet to be posted on the interim committee’s website.
Notable in the plan was the removal of various recommended tax and other incentives contained in the original 2007 Idaho Energy Plan and designed to encourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy resources such as solar panels on homes and businesses. Instead, the committee’s new plan simply recommends that the state “encourage” activities to promote clean energy in Idaho. The committee also declined to include a recommendation on whether Idaho should adopt some form of “consumer advocate” to represent residential and other small utility customers in matters before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Idaho is the only western state without such an advocate to look out for small customer interests before the PUC, although most other utility customer classes are well represented with their own attorneys. One bright spot in the plan is that, like the 2007 version, it still considers energy efficiency as Idaho’s most important electric energy resource, followed by renewable energy.
Development of the 2012 version of the plan was marred by a process in which the board of directors of the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, part of the state Office of Energy Resources and composed primarily of electric and gas utility representatives, vetted the energy plan from its own well-regarded task forces before it was submitted to lawmakers for consideration. While the ISEA task forces on such topics as energy efficiency, renewables and transmission included many progressive energy recommendations in the plan, many of them were purged by the utility-laden ISEA board of directors before the plan was passed on to the Legislature for consideration.
II: Payette Nuclear Reactor Developer’s Plans Tripped up by County Planners
The Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-4 earlier this month to deny an appeal by Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., to allow the company to begin what it called the next phase of its would-be nuclear reactor near the Snake River outside of Payette.
AEHI issued a Jan. 3 news release touting “Phase 2” of its reactor plan, saying it had submitted a 60-day notice with the Payette County Planning and Zoning Department that it would soon begin work on the proposed reactor site, including an environmental study and erection of meteorological towers to collect a year’s worth of data required by federal nuclear regulators. But P&Z Administrator Lindsey Royston determined the project should remain on hold pending resolution of legal actions brought by Payette County residents opposed to the project. AEHI appealed Royston’s decision and the Planning Commission upheld her. AEHI is now taking the matter to the Payette County Commission.
The troubled reactor development company is also embroiled in a long-running, pending federal civil suit after being accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of stock fraud.
III: Idaho Power, Bonneville, and PacifiCorp Consider Joining on Big Transmission Line
Idaho Power says it may team up with the federal Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp as partners in Idaho Power’s proposed “Boardman to Hemingway” transmission line from near Melba in southwest Idaho to the Columbia River. Idaho Power says it needs the new line to import additional power during times of high demand in Idaho, and also to export power to Pacific Northwest during times of energy surpluses in Idaho.
The three utilities signed an agreement Jan. 12 in which they will continue to look at partnering in the 300-mile, transmission line. The agreement would have the utilities sharing the costs of environmental reviews and other expenses associated with the early stages of the line’s development. Bonneville would pay about 24 percent of the costs, PacifiCorp 55 percent, and Idaho Power 21 percent. Idaho Power is taking the lead in the project’s development.
BPA’s entry into the project adds significant new funding. The government-run BPA has additional needs for transmission access to serve various municipal and cooperative utilities in southeast Idaho. Bonneville emphasized that its participation at this stage does not commit it to financing the transmission project down the road. The parties may also partner in the proposed 1,100-mile Gateway West transmission project that would run from Wyoming across southern Idaho and to Idaho Power’s new Hemingway substation, which would be the southern end of Boardman-Hemingway.
IV: Senate Democrats Propose Energy Facility “Siting” Panel
As they have in the past – without success – Senate Democrats have introduced a bill in the new Legislature to create a “siting” mechanism and require “siting certificates” for certain large energy projects, renewable or otherwise.
The bill, S1250, would trigger creation of a siting authority when a big energy project of 50 megawatts or more is proposed. The five-member committee would be composed of representatives from the Office of Energy Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Water Resources, and the Department of Commerce. Members would also be appointed by the city council of each city and county located within 50 miles of the energy facility site.
Similar efforts have been attempted in the past and have failed largely due to opposition from counties, who believe such a siting panel would usurp their authority. Proponents say such a siting mechanism is necessary because larger energy projects, whether a big wind farm or a fossil fuel power plant, can have impacts far beyond the county in which the projects are proposed. The idea is to provide adequate expertise from pertinent state agencies to help counties deal with technical and other issues and to ensure that an energy project does not have impacts in neighboring cities and counties and beyond. The measure would exempt energy facilities built by a regulated public utility, a cooperative or municipal owned utility, or the Idaho National Laboratory.
When reviewing a project, the panel would consider such things as the regional or national benefits it would deliver, benefits to consumers, compliance with “sound national energy policy,” whether the project minimizes consumption of natural resources and impacts on the environment of the state and surrounding jurisdictions, possible risks due to transportation accidents, compliance with local government development plans, the ability of the developer to finance the project, and whether the project is in the public interest.
Energy developers would pay a sliding fee of up to $100,000 to underwrite the siting review. The bill does not cover transmission projects.
V: PUC May Open Case on Complaints Over “Smart” Meters
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has been asked to rule on separate complaints by two Twin Falls women who objected so strongly to the replacement of their old analog electric meters with new digital meters that in one case a meter needed to be installed with a law enforcement escort.
The complaints were filed by Bonnie Menth and Vicky Davis against Idaho Power, which after three years recently completed the installation of nearly 500,000 digital smart meters across its service territory, which reaches from Oregon to Pocatello across southern and central Idaho.
Documents filed with the PUC indicate that Menth was upset because Idaho Power came to her home to install a new meter. She had registered a complaint resisting the new meter in August. Davis filed a similar informal complaint.
The PUC issued an order three years ago approving Idaho Power’s “automated metering infrastructure” technology, which is designed to facilitate meter reading but also to help the company manage its power grid more effectively and reliably. The complaints also allege that the National Energy Policy Act of 2005 allow utility customers to “opt out” of having smart meters installed.
Davis complained that her meter is “always on” and is constantly collecting information about her power consumption and, according to the PUC, “is always collecting and transmitting data violating her privacy and the sanctity of her home. She claims to have been in a continual state of distress and mental anxiety since the installation of the smart meter.” Menth complained about possible health issues caused by the meters and also that she felt the meter served as a “surveillance” device.
The PUC will soon determine whether to formally open a docket to more formally explore the two complaints. To review the complaints and related documents, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-12-04.
VI: Exergy Says It’s Moving Ahead with 23 More Idaho Wind Farms
Exergy Development Group, which built Idaho’s first utility-scale wind farm near Hagerman, says it plans to develop 23 more Idaho wind farms that will have a generation capacity of 116 megawatts – about a quarter the amount of a modestly sized coal plant.
Exergy says the projects will be installed in Twin Falls, Bingham, and Lincoln counties. The company says it is already working on roads and other site work and that it expects to begin erecting turbines in the second quarter of this year with operations beginning later this year.
Idaho Power would purchase the power. According to the Times News newspaper in Twin Falls, Idaho Power is still checking to determine whether these projects qualify for a more favorable rates under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA).
Exergy completed the seven-turbine Fossil Gulch wind farm near Hagerman in 2005, making it Idaho’s first major wind project. Idaho Power is also purchasing that electricity.
On The Agenda:
► The Snake River Alliance will hold a candlelight vigil from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Boise Train Depot to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance for Downwinders. The event will be followed by a gathering at the Shangi La Tea Room at Overland Road and Federal Way. The event commemorates the 61st anniversary of the first Nevada bomb test. A series of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert have impacted unknown numbers of “downwinders,” who suffer from a variety of ailments associated with the tests. Information at www.snakeriveralliance.org
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Jan. 30 and Feb. 13 and 21. 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.
IN THE LEGISLATURE: 2112 Session Under Way; Few Big Energy Bills Expected
The Idaho Legislature opened its 2012 session Jan. 9 and already has before it the proposed 2012 Idaho Energy Plan and a bill to create an energy “siting” authority to review large proposed energy projects, as mentioned above.
Each week, we’ll post thumbnail summaries on where the bills stand. Text of bills can be found by going to the Legislature’s main site at www.legislature.idaho.gov and clicking the “Bill Center” link and then “Legislation By Subject” and scrolling to the categories in which you’re interested in. Such as “Energy,” “Environment” or “Utilities.” You then click the link to the bill for more information. The Energy section will look something like this:
Renewable energy projects, expedite permits S1273
Here’s a look at the status of pending bills:
Energy Facility Siting (S1250):
Would create a “siting panel” and require a “siting certificate” for certain large energy projects. Panel would be made up of various state agency representatives and representatives from local governments, depending on where the project is proposed.
Status: Awaiting hearing in Senate State Affairs.
Sponsor(s): Sens. Elliot Werk, Edgar Malapeai, Dianne Bilyeu, Les Bock, Nicole Lefavour, and Dan Schmidt. (332-1351).