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SRA Press Release: PUC Decision Forces Idaho Power to Rethink Coal

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 2, 2013
CONTACT: Snake River Alliance
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director
208-344-9161 (w); 208-871-4597 (c)
Ken Miller, Clean Energy Program Director
208-344-9161 (w) 208-841-6982 (c)

Snake River Alliance: PUC Decision Forces Idaho Power to Rethink Coal
Ruling in High-Stakes Case a Victory for Anti-Coal Advocates

BOISE – The Idaho Public Utilities Commission’s decision to deny part of Idaho Power’s request to guarantee customers will foot the bill for $130 million to prop up an aging Wyoming coal plant will force Idaho Power to rethink its decision to try to stick ratepayers with a dying energy technology, the Snake River Alliance said Monday.

“This is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff said of the PUC’s Idaho Power coal ruling. “Idaho Power’s customers have spoken. They no longer want to be responsible for the harm to human health and our climate that these plants and their owners are responsible for. Idahoans want cleaner energy instead. It’s becoming awkward for Idaho Power to cling to coal, because coal is a loser in every possible way. The only argument we hear from coal plant supporters is that it’s cheap, but those days are numbered and every utility, including Idaho Power, knows it.”

Earlier this year, Idaho Power asked the PUC to grant a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” (CPCN), which is normally obtained for new power plants or transmission lines to indicate the PUC agrees the investment is prudent. More troubling for ratepayers, Idaho Power also asked for a “binding ratemaking treatment” from the PUC to bill ratepayers for the $130 million to install “selective catalytic reduction” (SCR) equipment on two of four units at the Jim Bridger coal plant, which Idaho Power co-owns with PacifiCorp. On Monday, the PUC granted Idaho Power the CPCN, but more important it denied Idaho Power’s plea to put its customers on the hook for the coal plant investments, at least for now.

“Idaho Power knows there is a cleaner path than the one it is on today,” said Alliance Clean Energy Program Director Ken Miller. “There’s nothing special about Idaho Power that requires it to keep its coal plants operating while utilities across the country are dumping theirs.”

Despite the coming Thanksgiving holiday, more than 100 Idaho Power customers packed the PUC’s Boise meeting room last week and testified unanimouslythat they believe Idaho Power is out of touch with its own customers by investing in coal when customers actually want cleaner energy.

“With luck, this ruling will lead to some introspection at Idaho’s largest utility,” Miller said. We’re gratified that the Commission agreed that further coal plant investments – on the backs of unwilling ratepayers – pose unacceptable risk to those ratepayers. Coal has no future as an energy resourse, and these coal plants will be regulated out of existance before this $130 million investment is paid off.”

The Alliance was one of three parties to invervene in the case to oppose some or all of Idaho Power’s request. The others were the Industrial Customers of Idaho Power and the Idaho Conservation League.
During the case, the Alliance argued that existing and pending health and environmental regulations will pile the costs of unknown new upgrades to exisitng coal plants like Jim Bridger.

“None of the planned upgrades would control climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal plants, which are the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” Woodruff said. “The Obama administration is in the process of developing CO2 reduction rules for existing coal plants that could soon make them uneconomic, which is why utilities are running away from coal, not finding out how to burn more of it. Without these SCR additions, the coal units would have to shut down in 2015 and 2016 because they would be out of compliance with existing Clean Air Act regulations.”

As a result of the chaotic regulatory landscape and based on Idaho Power’s own studies and statements, this $130 million is only the tip of the iceberg, the Alliance argued. Regulatory uncertainty is a reason to avoid making investments, not to make them as quckly as possible. Idaho Power acknowledges these SCRs will also be required on the other two Bridger coal plants, and also that other emission controls will be needed for different regulations not only at Bridger, but also at the North Valmy coal plants in Nevada, where Idaho Power is a half-owner with NV Energy, which has announced plans to shed all of its coal operations.

“It is clear from the PUC’s order that Commissioners carefully considered Idaho Power’s request and also the desire by Idaho Power’s customers to be part of the solution and not the problem as we struggle with greenhouse gas emissions like those coming from the Jim Bridger plants,” Woodruff said. “We understand that this was not an easy decision for the Commission, but it is one of its most important ones in recent years. The Commission reaffirmed that Idaho Power must provide reliable electricity service to its customers, and we agree. It’s gratifying that the Commission also determined in its order that, ‘Because of the uncertain future of coal-fired generation, we find it unreasonable to prematurely commit ratepayer dollars to support Idaho Power’s investment.’”

Idaho Power conducted a Coal Study, submitted to the Idaho PUC earlier this year, that compared only the costs of upgrading the plants, converting them to burn somewhat cleaner natural gas instead, or replacing them with same-sized gas plants altogether. The Alliance argued Idaho Power provided no evidence that it explored the viability of replacing the coal with energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“There is no shortage of stakeholders and Idaho Power customers who are eager to join with the PUC and with the company to put coal behind us and to find new and creative ways to meet our future energy needs,” Miller said. “Idaho Power and the PUC have a long history of listening to utility customers, and we can all benefit from a constructive dialog on what a clean energy future for Idaho will look like. It’s time to get to work.”

The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.

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