Encourage Idaho Power to “Green Up” its Energy

Want to encourage Idaho Power to do more to “green up” its energy and to promote more energy efficiency and conservation to boot?

Now’s your chance: The Idaho Public Utilities Commission wants to hear from you about the company’s new resource plan and how much power it should acquire from sustainable energy resources like wind or geothermal or from old-style dirty generation like coal-fired power plants.
Every two years, Idaho’s regulated electric utilities file their “integrated resource plans” with the Idaho PUC, the state agency that regulates utilities like power, water, and telephone companies. Idaho Power filed its new IRP with the PUC late last year, and the PUC is taking public comments on the plan through April 15.

The IRP was prepared over more than a year by the company’s IRP Advisory Committee, which includes the Snake River Alliance and a diverse group of other stakeholders. Of special interest is how the company plans to meet its growing demand for electricity for the coming decade, although the plan also looks out a decade after that.

The PUC doesn’t actually “approve” the IRP, but acknowledges receiving it. That means the plan isn’t binding on the utility, although it’s designed to serve as a roadmap to meet anticipated new “load” as Idaho Power’s customer base expands across southern Idaho. While the plan includes new renewable energy development, it still leaves the door open for continued operation of the out-of-state coal plants that account for nearly half of Idaho Power’s generation.

Notable are plans to add 540 megawatts of committed and new generation resources between now and 2019 and another 425MW of new transmission in the same period. It envisions reducing energy loads by 127 average megawatts by 2029, a 53 percent increase over the measures in the last IRP. Peak summer loads would be sliced by 367MW by 2012, which is a good thing since Idaho Power’s summer “peaks” that are fueled mostly by air-conditioning and irrigation continue to grow at nearly twice the rate as the company’s average load growth.

Planned new generation includes 150MW of wind and the 300MW from the new Langley Gulch natural gas plant and 20MW of geothermal in 2012; 49MW from a new turbine at the Shoshone Falls power plant and 250MW in new transmission from southwest Idaho to the Columbia River in central Oregon in 2015; 20MW of additional geothermal in 2016; and 175MW more in transmission from the new transmission line to Oregon in 2017. The plan also said Idaho Power plans to embark on a yet-to-be-defined solar energy pilot project. Depending on the time of year, one megawatt is enough power to serve more than 700 average-sized homes.

While this IRP includes ambitious gains in the company’s energy efficiency and conservation efforts, and while it does not envision building new dirty coal plants, it doesn’t set a clear path for the company to kick its coal-fired carbon habit unless Congress approves a climate bill that sets high enough prices for the carbon produced by those plants. We would have hoped that Idaho Power, like many utilities in our region, did more to respond to demands by its shareholders last May, when those shareholders approved a resolution directing the company to develop a concrete plan to show how it plans to reduce its carbon emissions.

Development of this 2009 IRP was delayed for several months to give the company a chance to freshen its projected sales and load forecasts to reflect depressed sales in light of the ongoing recession. The plan and related documents can be found on Idaho Power’s website at www.idahopower.com/2009IRP or at the PUC’s website at www.puc.state.id.us and then “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scrolling to IPC-E-09-33. Comments to the PUC can be submitted electronically via the “Comments and Questions” icon on the Commission’s home page.

They can also be submitted by faxing them to (208) 334-3762 or via snail mail to P.O Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074.