Idaho Energy Update
Feb. 6, 2009
The Idaho Senate’s Resources Committee today approved and sent to the floor a transmission bill proposed by the Office of Energy Resources. On the regulatory front, the Idaho PUC issued a sweeping order on Idaho Power’s 2008 rate case, and also issued a welcome set of recommendations on how Idaho should address its growing energy affordability crisis. Meanwhile, residents in Parma and Ontario showed up at an Idaho Power planning meeting to air their grievances over the company’s proposed transmission line from Canyon County to Oregon. For information on these developments and others, 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: Legislature: OER’s Transmission Bill Clears Senate Resources Committee
A bill proposed by the Office of Energy Resources (OER) that would allow transmission companies to apply to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for “priority” status to process their proposals quickly cleared the Senate Resources Committee Friday and was sent to the Senate floor for final approval before being sent to the governor.
House Bill 7 is the first energy bill of the 2009 session, and for the most part is noncontroversial. At the request of Resources Committee Chair Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, Snake River Alliance Energy Policy Analyst Liz Woodruff and OER Director Paul Kjellander huddled for several minutes before the hearing to discuss the Alliance’s hopes that the bill would affirmatively state the need to include renewable energy when considering whether transmission projects are granted a smoother ride through the state’s regulatory regimes. Woodruff spoke in favor of including renewable energy language, but agreed with Schroeder that the Alliance and other clean energy advocates could return to amend the bill, which is certain to become law. Clean energy advocates are pressing the Legislature to recognize the value of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in energy bills moving through the Legislature.
Also this week, the House State Affairs Committee on Monday agreed to introduce a bill by Rep. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, to allow regulated utilities to ask the PUC to let them recover some of the costs to provide service to new customers. The measure is designed to help defray some of the costs of serving new subdivisions, so all customers don’t have to pay those costs.
Looking ahead to next week, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will review the budget for the Office of Energy Resources at about 10:30 a.m. Monday in the JFAC meeting room on the third floor of the Capital Annex (the old Ada County Courthouse). And on Tuesday, the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee will consider printing a bill to extend the Legislature’s Interim Environment, Energy and Technology Committee when it meets at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Room 145 in the Annex.
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
Public utility, new facilities, charge customers H0052
For Internet streaming of budget committee meetings and House and Senate floor sessions, go to http://idahoptv.org/leglive/. Meanwhile, 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: Approved by the House and sent to the Senate Resources Committee, which approved the bill Friday 2/6 and sent it to the full Senate with a do-pass recommendation.
Sponsor(s): Office of Energy Resources Director Paul Kjellander, 287-4903.
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. Hearing yet to be scheduled.
Sponsors: Sens. Elliot Werk, Kate Kelly, Les Bock, Nicole LeFavour, Diane Bilyeu, Richard Sagness, and Jon Thorson.
One-Time Connection Charges (H52):
Allows the Public Utilities Commission to set one-time hook-up fees for new customers to recover some of the costs of investments needed to provide power to those customers. The “non-recurring charges” are designed to avoid having existing utility customers foot the bill to provide services to new customers.
Status: Introduced in House State Affairs and awaiting hearing in that committee.
Sponsors: Rep. John Stevenson
II: PUC Approves New Idaho Power Rates
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission this week issued an order setting new rates for customers of the state’s largest electric utility, granting Idaho Power Co. rates far below what the utility had sought and setting rate mechanisms that could even lead to lower energy costs for thrifty residential consumers.
The PUC concluded a lengthy Idaho Power rate case by granting Idaho Power an average residential rate increase of 1.6 percent and an overall increase of 3.1 percent across all rate classes – much lower than the 9.89 percent sought by the utility. Further, Idaho Power had asked to increase its annual revenue requirement by $66.6 million, but the PUC granted a $20.87 million revenue increase. As of Friday night, there was no word whether Idaho Power planned to appeal the PUC’s order.
Importantly, the PUC rate case order creates a year-round, three-tiered rate mechanism that the utility and witnesses agreed would lead to more energy efficiency and conservation measures by customers. Under the new tiered rate structure, customers can realize actual savings if they reduce consumption, because the new tiers provide lower charges for the first block of energy use and higher charges for greater consumption.
“The volatility of the market, and general financial distress on both a state and national level have triggered significant Commission concern about ambitious financial projections based on 2007 customer growth,” commissioners said, adding the expect the same sluggish conditions to continue.
In a news release, the PUC added: “The Commission said it expects Idaho Power to continue to demonstrate its ongoing efforts to reduce operating costs and increase efficiencies. Because of the tough economic climate, the Commission said all utilities’ fiscal responsibility will be ‘reviewed extensively and continually.’”
To review the PUC’s complete order and also the various filings in this case, go to
www.puc.idaho.gov, and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and then IPC-E-08-10.
III: PUC Endorses Low-Income Energy Assistance Ideas
The Public Utilities Commission issued an order this week agreeing with low-income advocates and others concerned about the toll rising utility prices are taking on Idaho families.
“It is the Commission’s desire that the dialogue begun by the affordability workshops continue as all parties work together in removing the barriers to affordable energy in Idaho,” the PUC wrote in its order.
Contrary to some media reports, the Commission is not running a bill in the Legislature to address the growing problem of energy affordability. Instead, commissioners said the PUC “supports legislation that would allow utilities to propose for Commission consideration programs, policies, ad rates for the benefit of low-income residential customers. The legislation should allow the utilities flexibility in the programs to be proposed, recognizing that each utility has differing circumstances and unique service areas. Details regarding the appropriate rate mechanism to support such programs can be discussed through future cases as they come before the Commission.”
This is a huge order from the Idaho PUC. It recognizes a grave problem facing a growing percentage of Idaho electricity customers, and it only scratches the surface of an issue that was addressed in workshops by such groups as Idaho Power, Rocky Mountain Power, Avista Utilities, Intermountain Gas, the Northwest Industrial Gas Users, the Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho, AARP, the Snake River Alliance and the Idaho Community Action Network.
The PUC said utilities should also boost education efforts to make customers more aware of programs to help pay bills and weatherize their homes; and said utilities should advocate for more energy efficiency standards for new construction and that weatherization programs should be extended beyond single-family homes to include apartments, condos, and manufactured homes and rental units.
The PUC also endorsed more flexible bill-payment assistance programs by utilities and supported tiered rates to encourage greater energy efficiency and conservation.
For more details, or to review the filings in this case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click “File Room” and then “Multi-Utility Cases” and then fine GNR-U-08-01.
IV: Parma, Ontario Residents Air Concerns Over Idaho Power Transmission Line
Several residents of Canyon County and eastern Oregon appeared at last week’s meeting of the Idaho Power Integrated Resource Advisory Committee Tuesday to lodge complaints about the company’s proposed transmission line from the yet-to-be-built Hemingway substation near Melba south of the Snake River to Boardman in Oregon.
While the Advisory Committee, known as Idaho Power’s IRPAC, which is deliberating the company’s future power acquisitions, has no authority over the transmission line, the panel nonetheless showed keen interest in the complaints by local officials and residents who charged Idaho Power did not notify them of the power line’s route or its impacts.
Parma Mayor Margie Watson told Company officials her town didn’t learn of the route for the huge 500kv line until December – well after the initial route was planned. And Roger Findley, representing a group called “Stop Idaho Power” in Ontario, Ore., echoed those complaints. Other residents said the line could shut down crop-dusting operations needed to protect the nation’s largest onion fields; could divide rural Idaho and Oregon communities; and disrupt local planning efforts in Canyon and Malheur Counties, as well as other jurisdictions in Oregon.
Company officials appeared to be taken aback by the number of residents wanting to lodge concerns about the proposed power line. While most of those residents agreed on the need for the new transmission from southwest Idaho to the Boardman area near the Columbia River, they objected to being ignored in the planning process and to having the line criss-cross their communities. After hearing from the concerned residents in Idaho and Oregon, Idaho Power officials at the meeting said they were eager to meet with the residents to try to iron out new routes for the line – particularly in populated areas.
The line is intended to connect the planned Hemingway substation with the huge Gateway West 500kv line from Wyoming to Hemingway, and then head northwest to better access markets for Idaho Power to import and export energy, depending on the season.
Utility officials told those at the meeting they wanted to meet to discuss the complaints and try to resolve concerns about the power line’s route. For more information, visit http://stopidahopower.blogspot.com; and www.boardmantohemingway.com/default.aspx
On The Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Feb 9 and 23. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us.
►The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hear the budget proposal for the Office of Energy Resources at about 10:30 a.m. Monday in the JFAC meeting room. To watch the meeting on your computer, go to: http://idahoptv.org/leglive/
► The House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee will consider printing a bill to extend the House-Senate Interim Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology when it meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 145.
► The Idaho Board of Environmental Quality meets Feb. 11 and 12 at its Boise headquarters at 1410 N. Hilton in Conference Rooms A & B. On Friday, Feb. 12, the Board will hear a Department of Environmental Quality report and recommendations on a mercury rulemaking. That meeting begins at 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.deq.state.id.us