The Idaho Legislature broke important new ground when it adopted the Idaho Energy Plan in 2007, but many of the Plan’s most important action items have yet to be put into place, according to a Snake River Alliance review of the Energy Plan’s implementation status.

“There are some very good and important recommendations in the state’s Energy Plan,” said Alliance Clean Energy Program Director Ken Miller, who prepared the Alliance’s Idaho Energy Plan Review, now distributed to Idaho legislators and others. “Unfortunately, for various reasons, some of the more progressive parts of the state’s Energy Plan have yet to be addressed.”

The Alliance notes its critique of the Energy Plan’s status is subjective – some state agencies claim much more has been accomplished than the Alliance is prepared to give them credit for. The Alliance reviewed 34 of the 44 recommendations in the Energy Plan, omitting those recommendations that deal with transportation energy issues such as ethanol. Of those 34 recommendations, seven were considered complete or largely complete in their implementation. Another 17 recommendations were considered incomplete with little or no progress toward implementing them. Ten of the recommendations reviewed were considered partially implemented.

Why is this important now? Because one of the Energy Plan’s leading recommendations is that the Legislature review the plan after five years to determine which recommendations might be updated or revised or even deleted from the Plan and whether additional new recommendations should be added to address changing energy technologies and other issues. With that in mind, the Idaho Legislature earlier this year charged its Interim Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee with reviewing the plan to see how it can be updated. Unfortunately, for budgetary reasons the Legislature did not provide additional funding to help the Interim Energy Committee accomplish its assignment. Five years ago, the Legislature set aside $300,000 to hire a consultant to prepare the state’s first energy plan in more than a quarter-century.

According to the Alliance’s new report, “After spending $300,000 in 2006 to develop the state’s 2007 Idaho Energy Plan, which is also loaded with great ideas and valuable recommendations on how Idaho can prepare itself for a new energy future, the state finds itself once again with an Energy Plan that’s at risk of similar neglect. The Idaho Legislature has once again reached a point in which it will determine whether Idaho moves forward with smart and creative energy policies that will help make Idaho more secure from an energy standpoint but that also make remarkable economic and environmental sense. The 2007 Idaho Energy Plan contains some excellent and in some cases visionary policy recommendations on everything from electricity and energy efficiency to renewable energy resources like wind and solar and also natural gas and transmission and siting issues and even transportation fuels. But like a tasty bright yellow banana, when an energy plan starts getting old, it goes south fast.”

The report notes that some state entities, notably the Legislature, Office of Energy Resources, and Public Utilities Commission, have reported in earlier status updates on the Plan that some of the Plan’s recommendations have merit, but cannot be implemented due to Idaho’s ongoing budgetary problems.

“Budget and other financial issues are often cited as the reasons for lack of state action, but these recommendations were issued more than four years ago,” the Alliance report said. “And besides, some of the most important action items require no state funds at all. The more likely culprit for the lack of action is a lack of political will for those entities that would need to act.”

In addition to the review of each of the 34 recommendations in the Plan, the Alliance’s report includes a sampling of new or revised energy policies that could be considered should the Interim Committee undertake a serious review of the Plan’s status.

“The Alliance is also including in this report a representative list of possible revisions to some of the recommendations, some new recommendations the Legislature and Governor’s Office might consider, and some recommendations that could be considered for removal from the Energy Plan due to the likelihood they will never be implemented or due to the fact changes in technologies or other changes have rendered the recommendations no longer useful or appropriate,” our report said. “The Alliance believes the most important recommendations in the Energy Plan are those that, if implemented, would expand energy efficiency and energy conservation efforts across all utility customer classes.”

At its first meeting since the Legislature’s adjournment, the Interim Energy Committee heard a presentation from the Office of Energy Resources and its Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance, which was created to undertake detailed policy reviews of several energy issues. ISEA Executive Chairman and Director of Energy Systems and Technologies for the Idaho National Laboratory Steven Aumeier briefed lawmakers on the ISEA’s work to date and offered OER’s ISEA as a resource to the Committee during its 2007 Idaho Energy Plan review.

While the ISEA task force reports are full of valuable information and fresher Idaho energy statistics than contained in Idaho’s aging Energy Plan, the Snake River Alliance believes the Legislature must retain its independence as it moves ahead in revising what for better or worse is Idaho’s guiding energy policy – implemented or not. Aumeier told legislators that ISEA is not interested in rewriting the Energy Plan, a task he said should remain with the Legislature that created the Plan. Rather, he said the ISEA is willing to work with the Interim Committee in a technical role as legislators revisit the Energy Plan.

At the end of the two-day Interim Energy Committee meeting, the panel’s House and Senate co-chairs said they would time the Committee’s next meeting to coincide with ISEA’s completion of its review of the Plan. The Alliance will be expecting that legislators consider not only ISEA’s assessment, but equally important, solicit input from interested parties and stakeholders across Idaho.

“We are mindful that, unlike in 2006, the Legislature and the Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee lack the resources to conduct a large-scale review of the Plan,” the Snake River Alliance’s report said. “Yet we believe that these incentive-based recommendations for expanding energy efficiency, as with those to encourage more renewable energy development, warrant renewed scrutiny by the Committee as part of its review. We believe the Idaho Legislature, like the Office of Energy Resources and the Public Utilities Commission, is eager to explore new policies and ideas to further Idaho’s energy policies and realize the economic, environmental, and energy security potential contained in the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan. We encourage those entities that are charged with implementing the Energy Plan to embark on this year’s review in the spirit of advancing Idaho’s long-term energy interests so that we do not find ourselves in a similar place when the Energy Plan is revisited in another five years.”

The original 2007 Idaho Energy Plan can be found at the Office of Energy Resources web site here.