Idaho Energy Update
Jan. 23, 2009
The Idaho Legislature will hold its first energy bill hearing of the 2009 session next week when it takes up a transmission bill proposed by the Office of Energy Resources. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is planning to open new renewable energy offices in some of its Western states, and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission has released a detailed staff report on the recent series of workshops on energy affordability issues. For details on these and other developments, please read on.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them my way!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Transmission Bill Set for Hearing Monday; Siting Bill Introduced – Again
The first energy-related bill of the 2009 legislative session is scheduled for a hearing Monday in the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, and House and Senate Democrats have once again introduced a bill designed to better plan for the siting of new energy generation facilities.
The transmission bill, proposed by the state Office of Energy Resources and Director Paul Kjellander, would create a system in which developers of transmission projects (there are currently five or so proposed for Idaho) can ask the Public Utilities Commission to give their project a “priority status” that would theoretically speed up review at the state level. Still, those projects will be subject to local review by county planning commissions, as well as the extensive review required by a number of federal agencies.
The siting bill, like others in past sessions, was introduced Friday by Senate Democrats and has not been set for a hearing. Past siting bills have not received committee hearings. Like earlier bills, this one would set up a system in which a siting review panel would be created, including state and local representatives. Developers of projects of 50MW or more would be required to submit an application to the Public Utilities Commission, including documentation on how a project meets specific requirements for review by the siting panel.
Each week, we’ll post thumbnail summaries on where the bills stand. Text of bills can be found by going to the Legislature’s main site at www.legislature.idaho.gov and clicking the “Legislation” link and then “Legislative Topic Index of Bills” and scrolling to the categories in which you’re interested in. Such as “Energy,” “Environment” or “Utilities.” You then click the link to the bill for more information. The Energy section currently looks like this:
Electric facility construction, priority processing H0007
Energy facility construction, state siting panel S1027
Here’s a look at the status of pending bills:
Priority Designation for Transmission Projects (H7):
Allows the Public Utilities Commission to designate certain transmission projects as “priority” for purposes of expediting review by state agencies. Such request would be made by developer of the transmission project. The bill wouldn’t affect local siting decision-making by counties and other government entities, nor would it affect existing federal review of transmission projects.
Status: Scheduled for hearing in the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee Monday, Jan. 26, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 145.
Sponsor(s): Office of Energy Resources Director Paul Kjellander.
Energy Facility Siting (S1027):
Sets up a process for state review of applications for siting and expansion of major energy facilities (50MW or more) in Idaho. The bill sets up procedures to create a siting authority and the process by which developers of energy projects would seek state approval for construction. Similar Democratic efforts to create a state “siting authority” for energy projects have failed in past legislative sessions.
Status: Introduced in the Senate on Friday, Jan. 23.
Sponsors: Sens. Elliot Werk, Kate Kelly, Les Bock, Nicole LeFavour, Diane Bilyeu, Richard Sagness, and Jon Thorson.
II: PUC Releases Report on Energy Affordability
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has posted its Staff’s Final Report on Energy Affordability, a summary from the staff’s viewpoint of workshops held earlier this year to explore challenges facing many Idaho energy consumers in paying their electric and gas bills.
The staff report is a thorough review of comments by the Community Action Partnerships of Idaho, the American Association of Retired People, Idaho’s regulated utilities and other stakeholders (including the Snake River Alliance) who participated in two workshops in October. The purpose of the workshops was to identify the biggest challenges facing low-income and other energy consumers in paying their bills and keeping up with a series of recent rate hikes. Some of the recommended solutions to the worsening problem can be implemented by utilities without PUC direction, but others, particularly those dealing with rate issues and bill payment assistance, would require action by the PUC and the Idaho Legislature.
The staff report, as well as the other documents filed in this docket, are a must-read for those concerned about the toll rising utility rates are taking on a growing number of Idaho consumers. The report and related documents can be found at www.puc.idaho.gov, and then by clicking “File Room” and then “Multi-Utility Cases” and then GNR-U-08-01.
The full Commission has yet to decide how to proceed with the recommendations from its staff, but also from the various stakeholders that filed comments and participated in the workshops.
III: BLM to Open Renewable Energy Offices; Transmission Corridors Maps Posted
The Bureau of Land Management says it plans to open new “coordination offices” designed to speed up development of renewable energy projects on public lands. In one of his last acts as Interior secretary, Dirk Kempthorne issued an order to create the offices to move renewable projects, as well as some transmission facilities, through the BLM review process.
“At at time when America is crying out for renewable forms of energy, it is critical that the federal government expedite the development of wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal resources on public lands,” Kempthorne said. “This is another step forward in this administration’s effort to create a diverse portfolio of domestic energy supplies for the future.”
The “Renewable Energy Coordination Offices” would initially be created in Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming. It’s expected that other Western states with a large BLM presence, including Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, could house similar offices in the future.
While Kempthorne’s order is designed to accelerate development of energy projects on public lands, it is expected to be greeted with some skepticism by those concerned that fast-tracking energy projects could short-circuit adequate environmental reviews.
In a related development, a number of federal land management agencies, including BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service, have released a final environmental impact statement (EIS) that identifies locations of corridors that the agencies believe could be suitable for large “energy transmission” projects, including pipelines and transmission lines.
The EIS (http://corridoreis.anl.gov) identifies thousands of miles of possible energy corridors in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The website contains maps and other documents relating to the EIS.
On The Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Jan. 26 and Feb. 9. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us.
►Idaho Power’s Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Committee’s next meeting, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 22, has been moved to Feb. 3 at the company’s Boise headquarters. The meetings are open to the public and run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The committee is reviewing possible resource portfolios to help guide the utility on how it will meet future energy needs through generation and efficiency resources.