June 11 ID Energy Update
Idaho Energy Update
June 11, 2012
Rocky Mountain Power, which serves parts of eastern Idaho, has asked the Idaho PUC to approve a reduction in the amount it collects from customers to pay for its energy efficiency programs. Meanwhile, we have a sampling of some of the answers Idaho Power executives had to questions about coal, wind, and political contributions from IDACORP shareholders at the company’s May shareholders meeting. And the Bonneville Power Administration will be in Boise in July to hear from stakeholders about the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty, while the federal government has relicensed the Pacific Northwest’s lone commercial nuclear reactor through 2043. 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: Rocky Mountain Power Wants to Decrease Collections for Energy Efficiency
On the heels of an Idaho Public Utilities Commission decision to reduce the amount Idaho Power collects from customers to fund its energy efficiency programs, Rocky Mountain Power has now asked the PUC to also grant a reduction in its efficiency funding.
Rocky Mountain Power is the arm of utility giant PacifiCorp that does business in parts of eastern Idaho. It is asking the PUC to allow it to reduce its “Customer Efficiency Services” rate, or what it charges on bills each month to fund energy saving measures, “to better align the Company’s recovery of costs associated with acquiring and administering cost effective demand-side management programs in its Idaho service territory.”
Rocky Mountain Power says its current efficiency tariff rider rate of 3.4 percent produces about $5.7 million a year for efficiency programs. It is asking to lower the rate to 2.1 percent, which would generate about $3.5 million a year. By comparison, Idaho Power has a case pending before the PUC to recover $42 million it spent on efficiency and conservation programs in 2011. Idaho Power’s efficiency tariff rider rate was 4.75 percent of customer bills monthly, but the PUC lowered that rate to 4 percent over the objections of the Snake River Alliance and other groups that were concerned the lower rate might result in reduced spending on all-important energy efficiency programs and incentives offered by Idaho electric utilities. It’s likely those same concerns will arise in the Rocky Mountain Power case.
In 2008, the PUC granted a Rocky Mountain Power request to increase the efficiency rate from 1.5 percent to 3.72 percent. That increase helped provide additional funds for such programs as refrigerator recycling, low-income weatherization services, and incentives for home energy savings. Rocky Mountain then asked the PUC in 2010 to raise its efficiency rider rate from 3.72 percent to 5.85 percent, and the PUC granted an increase to 4.72 percent – about the same as Idaho Power’s old rate.
The rate was then reduced to 3.4 percent by the PUC later in 2010 when Rocky Mountain’s irrigation load control program was shifted out of the rider-funded programs and treated as a “system resource” much like power plants for purposes of recovering costs. The company said this reduction reflects that change. What we don’t know is how any reduced energy efficiency funding will impact the utility’s ability to comply with PUC mandates to acquire all “cost-effective” energy efficiency measures, and whether those efforts will be stifled in the event funding is inadequate.
Idaho utilities have a history of under-collecting the amounts needed to satisfy their obligations to fully fund energy efficiency programs, which is one reason why clean energy advocates resist efforts like this to reduce efficiency funding levels.
To review Rocky Mountain Power’s application to the PUC, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to PAC-E-12-11.
II: Idaho Power Execs Field Questions from Shareholders on Coal, Wind, Campaign Cash
Executives from IDACORP, the parent company of Idaho Power, fielded some tough questions from shareholders at the company’s annual shareholders meeting May 17, touching on such diverse issues as the utility’s use of coal-fired power plants, its ongoing and highly controversial campaign against wind power, and the company’s use of shareholder money to support Republican political candidates in the recent primary election season.
IDACORP executives always reserve time at the end of their annual meeting to hear from shareholders on whatever issues they’re interested in, and shareholders rarely disappoint. It was in 2009 when company shareholder rose up with a successful resolution to demand the company explain how it plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
This time around, IDACORP President and CEO LaMont Keen fielded the bulk of the shareholder questions, flanked by company chief financial officer and executive vice president Darrel Anderson.
The first shareholder question dealt with the company’s plans, if it has any, to consider phasing out dirty coal-fired power generation. The answer was a far cry from the greenhouse gas-reduction demands lodged by shareholders three years ago and was more of a defense of the company’s existing coal operations in Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon.
“First, you have to understand the nature of our business,” Keen said. “We have an obligation to serve. We sell 7/24 on-demand service and the coal plants we have today are probably the most reliable portion of our fleet year-to-year in order to do that and make up in an average year maybe half of our generation. So it’s something that our customers rely on every day.” At another point, Keen added, “The reliability we provide is based on coal, that’s a national phenomena. It varies somewhat in percentage across the nation. That’s the way it exists today. We didn’t get here quickly; we’re not going to reverse that quickly. We can’t just decide not to take coal and not run half of our generating fleet, because we can’t do what we do without those plants today. So, it’s fair consideration and obviously we have to monitor what goes on and if carbon actually does get taxes for some reason, that would change the economics of other decisions that we make.”
Another shareholder asked about IDACORP’s contributions of tens of thousands of dollars to GOP political candidates, including to some who had no primary election opposition.
“With regard to state contributions, we do that to represent our customers in the shareholder’s interests,” Keen said, adding later, “it’s not that extensive, but we do have a footprint, we do have interests that we need to protect.”
Another shareholder returned to the issue of Idaho Power’s emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the pending startup of the huge Langley Gulch natural gas plant near New Plymouth, and how the utility’s generation plants consume natural resources.
“Something like the Langley Gulch plant, it may not be everything that you desire, but it’s much better than a coal plant in terms of its carbon emissions,” Keen said, claiming that natural gas is easier to ramp up and down to meet changing power demands and arguing that wind is less able to fill that role, although many utilities have succeeded in integrating much greater percentages of wind than Idaho Power.
Another shareholder questioned the validity of Idaho Power’s anti-wind blog and website, www.getpluggedin.com, which the company uses to post criticisms of wind, including one by a national anti-wind advocate who recently participated in a February meeting of wind opponents (including some from Idaho) in Washington, D.C., to help coach them on how to defeat wind power proposals around the country.
Keen and Anderson both sought to defend the accuracy of the website, despite their use of high-profile wind-basher John Droz Jr., who used the Idaho Power site to rail about the “insane energy path we’re on” with regard to using wind power.
And one shareholder asked about solar power, or rather the lack of it, in Idaho Power’s generation portfolio.
Keen said cost is primarily what is holding solar back at Idaho Power, although recent utility resource plans show the cost of solar is coming down significantly – to the point where it is becoming competitive with dirtier, nonrenewable energy resources especially when carbon issues are added to coal and gas generation. “We think it has a role to play for us,” Keen said, although Idaho Power recently deferred plans to build a modest solar “demonstration” project during the company’s ongoing battle against wind and solar projects before the Public Utilities Commission.
III: BPA Sets Boise Meeting to Take Comment on Columbia River Treaty
The Bonneville Power Administration has set a series of meetings across the region to hear from the public about the implementation of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, and the Idaho meeting will be July 13 at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel in Boise.
The original treaty was written to address primarily hydropower and flood control issues associated with the Columbia River. However, it is expected that many other issues that have arisen since the CRT was adopted, notably fish and wildlife issues dealing with such things as endangered salmon runs, will likely come up as the treaty is revisited and modern-day issues are taken up.
The United States is represented in the treaty revision efforts by the what’s known as the “U.S. Entity,” which is represented by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, this review of the CRT will see a much greater participation by 15 tribal governments and each of the four Northwest states.
“The overarching challenge in the review will be to adequately consider the ecosystem, environmental, irrigation, navigation, and other issues that were not addressed in the original treaty, and balance those interests with the continuing need for flood control and power benefits,” the U.S. agencies said in announcing the review process. “The ultimate objective is to submit a recommendation to the State Department in September 2013, one year before either nation can transmit its intention to terminate the treaty, in order to provide federal authorities sufficient time to deliberate and review that recommendation.”
The Columbia River is the fourth largest river in North America and is also the nation’s largest power-producing river. The river’s headwaters are in British Columbia, although only 15 percent of the Columbia River Basin is in Canada. Both countries have major interests in the river and its operations, with the United States reliant on Canadian flood control projects for flood prevention and Canada similarly reliant on hydropower systems in the United States for electricity.
For more information on the CRT and this process, go to www.crt2014-2024review.gov
IV: NRC Renews Columbia Generation Station’s Nuke License Through 2043
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has relicensed the Northwest’s lone nuclear power station through 2043.
The Columbia Generating Station in Richland, WA, was licensed by the NRC in 1983 and its license was due to expire in 2023. Plant owner Energy Northwest submitted its renewal application to the NRC in 2010, and the license is now renewed for an extra 20 years.
The 30-year-old reactor has a capacity of 1,100 megawatts of power, or enough to serve a city the size of Seattle. It provides about 10 percent of the power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration. While Columbia’s power is not resold by Idaho’s big three investor-owned utilities, the state’s 20-plus smaller municipal and cooperative utilities do receive a slice of the nuclear power through their contracts with BPA. BPA provided more than $17 million toward the costs of the NRC relicensing.
For more information on Energy Northwest and the Columbia Generating Station, go to www.energy-northwest.com
On The Agenda:
► The 5th Annual Idaho Green Expo runs June 23-24, and this year will be held at Expo Idaho (the fairgrounds at Chinden and Glenwood in Boise). As usual, this year’s expo will feature demonstrations, entertainment, booths and other celebrations of all things green in Idaho. There is a $5 admission charge, but 2-for-1 coupons are an easy score. For more information, go to www.idahogreenexpo.org
► The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) will hold a “listening session” on the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) July 13 at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel in Boise (see above). The sessions, planned around the Pacific Northwest in the coming weeks, are part of BPA’s role and that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in reviewing the treaty between the United States and Canada. The daylong sessions include a “Treaty Review 101” informational session about the CRT. For more information, go to www.crt2014-2024review.gov
► The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s July meeting will be held in Boise on July 10-11. The Power Council, which was created by Congress in 1980 and which is includes two gubernatorial appointees from each of the four Northwest states, works on region-wide energy issues and fish and wildlife issues associated with the impacts of the federal Columbia and Snake River hydropower system. The Council’s July agenda will be released closer to the meeting and posted on the Council’s website at www.nwcouncil.org
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meeting on June 18. 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. The event will begin at around 5 p.m.