It was a defining week for energy in Idaho, with the four-year-old proposed nuclear reactor scheme finally meeting its match in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Against the backdrop of that reactor all but disappearing from the Idaho energy scene, Idaho Power came to the Public Utilities Commission this week with 10 new contracts for separate wind projects of 10 megawatts each of average energy. If those projects are built, from Owyhee County to the Burley area, they would add significant amounts of new wind power to Idaho Power’s system. For more on these and other developments, read on. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: SEC Hauls AEHI into Court over Stock Irregularities, Gillispie Compensation
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began the week by suspending trading of Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., stock out of concerns over trading irregularities and other questions. Two days later the SEC delivered a knock-out punch by charging the would-be Idaho nuclear reactor developer with securities fraud, essentially ending any chances of that reactor being built in Payette County or anywhere else in Idaho.
The events of this week left AEHI and its two top executives facing charges of stock manipulation and defrauding their investors, leaving the four-year-old shell of a company with little if any chance of recovery. The federal government wants to freeze AEHI’s assets as well as getting a restraining order against AEHI CEO Don Gillispie and AEHI Senior Vice President Jennifer Ransom, described by the SEC as Gillispie’s girlfriend, from participating in any activities relative to the company and their alleged illegal activities.
AEHI came to Idaho in December 2006 with grandiose plans to build a nuclear reactor complex in Owyhee County. Once those plans caved in, the company moved to an Elmore County site above the Snake River at Hammett. Chased from that county, AEHI attempted to victimize Payette County, which eagerly granted its requests to change the comprehensive plan and began complying with AEHI’s rezoning requests only to have the process blow up with the SEC fraud charges. Payette County officials have not said whether AEHI’s near-fatal legal problems will prevent the county from proceeding with AEHI’s rezoning application, although it’s questionable whether AEHI has any assets remaining to pursue its reactor scheme.
For more information on this week’s AEHI developments, visit the Securities and Exchange Commission website at www.sec.gov, or the Snake River Alliance’s site at www.snakeriveralliance.org
II: Idaho Power Submits Contracts for 10 Additional Wind Farms
Against the backdrop of the nuclear reactor plans going up in smoke, Idaho Power came to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission with no fewer than 10 new wind contracts for projects stretching from Owyhee County south of Nampa to near Burley and Declo at the east end of the Magic Valley.
The first five wind contracts are between Idaho Power and American Wind Group, represented by long-time Idaho renewable energy developer Brian Jackson. Three of the contracts are for adjacent wind farms just south of Murphy known as Murphy Flat Mesa, Murphy Flat Wind, and Murphy Flat Energy. Those three projects have a combined “nameplate” or maximum generation capacity of 75 megawatts, making it one of Idaho’s larger wind projects. American Wind Group’s other two projects are the Rainbow Ranch Wind and Rainbow West Wind projects that would generate about 46MW near Declo.
The other five projects represent what was a single wind farm known as Cotterel Ridge, now owned by Shell Wind Energy. The project is located southwest of where I-86 and I-84 split near Burley and is on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which after years of environmental reviews granted a permit more than three years ago. Now known simply as Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo Wind, the five adjacent projects account for about 150MW of total capacity, or about 50MW of energy over the course of the year.
This combined 270 megawatts of total wind capacity, or about one-third of that amount in year-round average energy, would represent a significant addition of new wind generation onto Idaho Power’s overall system, the company said. In early November, Idaho Power joined with the state’s other big electric utilities, Avista and Rocky Mountain Power, in asking the PUC for what amounts to a moratorium on these small renewable energy projects that utilities are required to do business with under a 1978 federal law aimed at promoting renewable energy. The utilities are complaining that their respective generation and transmission systems will be overtaxed by having to accept increasing amounts of wind power, since they cannot rely on the generation around the clock or year-round. As a result, the PUC has opened an investigation into how Idaho electric utilities can deal with increasing amounts of new renewable energy resources.
These 10 contracts are somewhat unique for Idaho’s regulated electric utilities. Idaho Power acknowledged to the PUC that it is asking for a freeze on new renewable energy generation contracts of anything above 100 kilowatts (down from the far larger 10MW that is typical of a small wind farm) for projects to qualify for guaranteed rates. In these cases, however, Idaho Power and the wind developers say they have reached unusual terms in their negotiations in which Idaho Power can reject power from some wind turbines in cases where the wind power nears or exceeds the utility’s load levels. Idaho Power said it expects future wind contracts to contain similar provisions, since it is bringing so much wind onto its system that it may need to curtail it to ensure it can continue to use some traditional, more reliable generation resources such as hydro or coal or gas.
To review the contracts referenced above, go to www.puc.state.id.us and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll down to the projects identified above. To review the larger case in which the three utilities are seeking PUC relief in accommodating new renewable energy resources, go to the same site, then “File Room” then “Electric Cases” and then scroll to GNR-E-10-04. The PUC is taking comments on the moratorium case through Dec. 22.
III: Idaho Among 24 States Receiving Federal Funds for Building Code Support
Idaho received $245,263 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as part of a 24-state, $7 million initiative to support the adoption of updated energy-efficient building codes, DOE said today.
“The funding will expand the existing partnerships between states and the federal government and help states to more rapidly adopt new residential and commercial building codes, as well as increase compliance with those codes,” DOE said in announcing the grants. “As part of the administration’s broad efforts to help families and businesses save money by saving energy, these awards will help states and local communities significantly cut the energy intensity of the nation’s buildings sector, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S.”
DOE also said federal agencies, including the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will help Idaho and other selected states with up to $350,000 in technical assistance including code trainings for the building community and helping policy makers adopt new codes.
“Each state has committed to work with DOE to advance adoption, training, and compliance for the updated building codes.”
On The Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission its next decision meetings on Dec. 20 and Jan. 4. 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 Idaho Legislature convenes its 2011 session at noon Jan. 10, with the governor’s annual state of the state and state of the budget address following shortly thereafter.
► The PUC is taking public comments through Dec. on a plan by Idaho Power to return the lion’s share of the proceeds from the sale of pollution credits to customers, although several commenters are urging some of the proceeds to go continue funding energy efficiency education programs in Idaho Power’s service territory. Utilities like Idaho Power were given thousands of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission allowances by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of a “cap and trade” program to reduce SO2 emissions and reduce the impacts of acid rain that are caused in part by SO2. Because some of the SO2-spewing coal plants that Idaho Power uses have been partially cleaned up, the utility no longer needs as many pollution credits. It has sold 20,000 of those surplus credits this year, collecting $543,000 after deducting fees. Under a formula worked out in a previous case when it sold surplus SO2 allowances, 95 percent of those proceeds will be returned to Idaho Power customers with the remaining 5 percent going to shareholders. To review documents in the case or to comment, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll down to IPC-E-10-20.