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While “net neutrality” has been in the public mind for years, the fight for “grid neutrality” has just begun. Across America, and potentially in Idaho, home and business owners who invest in clean energy face the prospect of discriminatory fees to access the power grid. The principals of grid neutrality protect fair prices for all electric customers and prevent people with solar or wind from being penalized.

A recent New York Times piece shows that equal public access to the grid is under threat from fossil-fuel industry lobbyists working to eliminate solar net metering programs across the country. This would force consumers to keep buying something we don’t want any more – electricity generated by polluting-spewing coal and natural gas plants.

Idaho’s net energy metering program is vulnerable to this misguided effort.

Over 1,200 Idaho Power customers have rooftop solar or small wind generators. These net meter customers gladly pay $5 per month for access to the electric grid. Just like other Idaho Power customers, this minimum applies even if no power is used in a given month.

Idaho Power has raised concerns that this might not be enough to fully recover the costs of operating the grid in the future and wants to cap the net metering program now. The company wants customers who install solar panels today to agree in advance to pay undisclosed higher rates and fees in the future.

It’s clearly not fair to charge people with rooftop solar more than other customers for access to the electric grid. If the utility truly isn’t charging enough to cover the costs of the grid then rates should be adjusted for all customers – not just solar power users.

As important as net neutrality is to the future of the internet, grid neutrality is to our energy system beyond fossil fuels. Without grid neutrality green energy users will soon balk at unfair extra fees and charges. If they to go off of the grid, not only will the utilities will lose customers but society will lose a chance to build a truly integrated smart grid.

Despite these uncertainties, there has never been a better time to invest in solar power. The cost of panels is at an all-time low. The 30% federal tax credit and state deductions make it even more affordable. We need policies to support these investments and local solar jobs. We can’t let fear tactics from the fossil fuel industry hold us back.

The Snake River Alliance is talking with Idaho Power and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission about grid neutrality and the costs and benefits of solar and distributed energy in Idaho. But right now, Idaho’s net metering program isn’t broken. Today all customers pay the same base rates. Policies that discriminate or penalize customers for installing wind power or solar panels should be turned back.

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/08/climate/rooftop-solar-panels-tax-credits-utility-companies-lobbying.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

http://www.energyandpolicy.org/nyt-utilities-slow-rooftop-solar/

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/grid-neutrality-principles-for-tomorrows-electricity-sector

Jul 10 2017

Radioactive Waste

The Snake River Alliance participated in Idaho Power Company’s stakeholder meeting on June 16th in Boise where access to the electric grid for people who generate electricity for their own use was discussed. The Alliance has been part of this discussion out of the concern that thousands of solar and wind-power owners could be penalized for simply investing in green energy.

Last year, the Alliance’s Solarize the Valley program assisted 49 families in installing rooftop solar panels; essentially a $1 million dollar private consumer investment into local green energy infrastructure. This has allowed Idaho Power to meet solar consumer demand without any additional investment by the company itself.

Investment in local green energy serves an important public good. Solar fits into our communities while carbon-spewing gas turbines and coal plants do not.  The environment and our economy benefit from these green investments.

The Alliance believes Idaho Power should study in depth the value of distributed generation before proposing changes in the net metering program that could hurt the local consumer, in addition to, small business and jobs in our community.  Idaho consumers have the right to take control of their energy consumption, generate green energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. This should be facilitated by our energy utilities – not penalized.

Now that solar and wind power have reached 10% of America’s energy generation, nearly every utility in the country has acknowledged the benefits of distributed energy to both the grid and non-solar customers.  Idaho regulators should consider expanding the net metering program to include larger arrays, encourage new community solar projects and attract new investors to green energy projects. When customers are willing to invest their own dollars in building urban green infrastructure they should not be punished by unfair rate structures and extra charges.

You can read the Idaho Power Net Metering report by following this link.
You can also enter comments on the report by emailing them to Connie Aschenbrenner at caschenbrenner@idahopower.com
Please also copy your comments to the Alliance at communications@snakeriveralliance.com

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is accepting public comments now until the 27th of June on a proposed rule to reduce and eliminate Emergency Planning Zones around some new reactors, including the NuScale project in Idaho. NuScale wants to build an array of a dozen small modular reactors (SMR) at the Idaho National Laboratory. To make it easier for the company, the NRC is proposing to shrink the several required Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) for small modular reactors and “other new technologies” from 2 miles, 10 miles, and 50 miles – down to the fence line of the 40-acre facility.

Who does this impact?

This rule change would affect actions taken to protect the public in case of an emergency at NuScale. More than a dozen Eastern Idaho communities, including Arco, Howe, Butte City, Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Shelley, Pocatello, American Falls, Terreton, Firth, Fort Hall, Aberdeen, Chubbuck, Carey and Mackay, lie within the planning zones.

Current federal rules require evacuation plans for people living within 2 to 5 miles of a reactor in case of an emergency. Within a 10-mile zone, emergency plans may include evacuation, sheltering in place, and issuing potassium iodide to people to protect against thyroid cancer. Currently, the area 50 miles out from a nuclear reactor is an ingestion exposure EPZ, where steps are taken to protect people from consuming contaminated food and water. All of these action might become important if there were an emergency at NuScale!

 

There is no justification for reducing emergency planning for new nuclear power plants. We know that any nuclear chain reaction is inherently risky. The United States has historically depended on the strategy of “defense in depth” to protect people from this risk around commercial power plants. This means there are multiple independent and redundant defenses to try to prevent accidents or lessen their harm. Shrinking the EPZ is absolutely counter to the “defense in depth” strategy — particularly when applied to new and untested reactor designs.

Proposed rule change

For the sake of reducing the regulatory burden on developers, the NRC is now considering NuScale’s proposal to shrink the emergency planning zones, not just for NuScale, but for all SMRs and other new reactors, too. The change would reduce NuScale’s EPZ all the way down to just the land within the 40-acre facility.

This is a terrible idea!  Shrinking the EPZ can only be justified if one accepts the nuclear industry’s claims that new reactors will be safer. Those claims are unprovable since these new reactors don’t exist yet and have not been tested. All Idahoans have a right to know what would happen in case of an accident at NuScale.

An accident in a single small reactor can have big results. SMR developers plan to concentrate a number of small reactors near one another. NuScale, for instance, plans to build 12 of its 50-MW reactors in a single buried chamber. A 600-MW nuclear reactor is not small, and the potential effects of an accident are not either. Public safety demands far more than a single 40-acre emergency planning zone for an array of 12 reactors.

Send your comments today!

  • The emergency planning rule should be the same for NuScale as any other nuclear reactor.
  • The NuScale facility is not small. It would be a cluster of one dozen 50 MW reactors equivalent to one 600MW reactor, and in an emergency the results could be large.
  • There is no evidence that new reactors will be safer than old ones. The “safer” reactors have no proven track record since they haven’t been built.
  • The rules should not be changed just because the nuclear industry claims that they will be safer.
  • The proposed rule is flawed because a single small reactor could still have a large release.
  • Tell the NRC that the rules should protect public health in the event of a nuclear reactor accident.

Comments are due by June 27, 2017, and should be labeled “Docket ID NRC-2015-0225”

Email: Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov

Snail Mail: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555–001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff.

Please feel free to send a copy of your comments to the Alliance at communications@snakeriveralliance.org

 

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission may soon approve a settlement agreement committing Idaho Power to pursue full closure of the North Valmy coal plant in Nevada by 2025. The Alliance has pushed for full closure as soon as 2021 and strongly supports this action. The North Valmy coal plant was once expected to close in 2035. Now, because of the failing economics of coal, Idaho Power wants to move up the target date. The utility has correctly concluded closure will reduce costs and is best for ratepayers in the long run.

Public support is needed because Idaho Power can’t do this alone. Plant co-owner Nevada Power has not agreed to that timeline and Idaho regulators must lead the way. North Valmy produces 4 million tons of carbon dioxide and 7,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year. Closing this facility will improve regional air quality and public health. Closing North Valmy will require speeding up depreciation schedules causing a small (1.17%) rate increase through 2028. Closing the plant will also save approximately $20 million a year and reduce long-term rates.

Take Action: Send your comments today to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission in support of closing North Valmy and saving money for consumers. Go to: www.puc.idaho.gov — under “Consumers” click “Case Comment or Question Form” and complete the form using Case Number: IPC-E-16-23. Send a copy of comments to Idaho Power as well: dockets@idahopower.com

Points to make in your comments:

  • Support action by Idaho Power to continue a “glide path” away from coal by closing North Valmy completely by 2025.
  • Support efforts to further evaluate a the full closure date of 2021.
  • Support changing the depreciation schedule so Idaho Power can speed up the transition and save money in the long run.
  • Encourage the IPUC to work with all electric utilities to begin planning to transition to 100% safe, clean and renewable energy as soon as practicable.

The IPUC public comment period closes May 25th.