Donate! Alliance Logo

Shockwaves Run through Idaho Utility World

By

In just the last few weeks, Idaho electric utilities have seen the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency release perhaps the biggest anti-pollution rule in a generation and Idaho’s Public Utilities Commission reject Idaho Power’s bid to suspend its obligation to buy solar power from developers because it’s afraid too much solar energy is about to come knocking on its door. It’s been quite a time.

EPA’s new rule will forever change Idaho’s coal-reliant regulated electric utilities by requiring real, 30 percent carbon reductions at their out-of-state coal plants. The PUC’s order in the Idaho Power case was a victory for Idaho’s utility-scale solar developers who have been frustrated in contract negotiations with Idaho Power.

New EPA Coal Rule

Climate-changing coal plants are the last major greenhouse gas source to be regulated by EPA. President Obama ordered EPA to draft rules for new power plants in his June 2013 Climate Action Plan, which EPA did last year. On June 2 this year, EPA issued the far more sweeping greenhouse gas reduction rules for the nation’s 1,000-plus existing coal plants. If it remains intact when it’s finalized next June, the rule will require massive anti-pollution upgrades – or retirements – at old coal plants, dramatically changing the nation’s energy mix. 

While critics such as the utility and coal sectors fault the draft rule as imposing huge costs and grid impacts like rolling blackouts, EPA and other analyses argue differently. The Snake River Alliance laid out plans for how coal plants can be decommissioned and replaced with clean alternatives in multiple papers, which can be found at http://snakeriveralliance.org/things-to-read/ (For more information on the EPA coal rule, go to www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan).

PUC’s Solar Order

Idaho Power petitioned to delay new solar contracts until it formulates an “integration charge” for what developers should pay to hook into Idaho Power’s system.

Idaho Power claimed huge amounts of solar generation were about to seek contracts with the utility and that it would overwhelm the system and cause “irreparable harm” to the company and its customers. A quickly scheduled public hearing was reminiscent of the massive pro-solar turnout in a different case involving Idaho Power’s residential customers last year. Idaho Power customers and others challenged Idaho Power’s claims of an imminent solar “land rush” and said if there are any problems, it’s because Idaho Power dragged its feet in its current solar “integration” analysis, which the Alliance argued may already be flawed because it considered the costs of adding solar power but not the benefits.

The PUC mostly supported the solar community. “We deny Idaho Power’s request for temporary suspension of its [solar purchase] obligation,” commissioners wrote. Instead, the PUC told the company and solar developers to return to contract talks. “Idaho Power indicated that it began its solar integration study in August 2013. The Company offered no explanation why it did not begin the study sooner or why it has not completed the study in a more timely manner. Several commenters and public witnesses noted that the imminent “crisis” caused by the lack of a completed solar integration study is of the Company’s own making. We agree.” (Review the PUC order and other documents in the case by going to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “open cases” under the “electric” heading and scroll down to Case No. IPC-E-14-09.)

 

Comments are closed.