Idaho Energy Update
May 1, 2009
The Idaho Legislature apparently can’t get enough of spring time in Boise. Even though the House has declared itself “adjourned” for the session, its members will have to trudge back next week to settle up with the Senate. It continues to be one of the strangest ends to an Idaho Legislature in memory, with the House majority feuding with the Senate majority as well as with the governor on transportation issues. But no energy bills are in the crossfire, so until the interim energy committee convenes this summer, the show’s over for what turned out to be a surprisingly lackluster session on energy issues. This week’s update includes the final energy bill tally, so you can judge for yourself where the holdups were and what may need to change to have a more successful 2010 session.
Meanwhile, Idaho Power has asked for and will probably receive an extra six months or so to file its every-other-year “integrated resource plan” – the roadmap it develops to meet its future energy needs. IPC says problems with its proposed SW Idaho-Oregon transmission line is the big hang-up. And don’t forget: The NW Energy Coalition’s Spring Conference and Board Meeting hits Boise this month! Details follow on how to participate in the season’s pre-eminent energy discussion.
For more on these developments and others, please read on.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Legislature: Showdown Continues as House Adjourns – For Now
The 2009 Legislature stumbles toward adjournment perhaps next week, after the House left town Wednesday, the Senate remaining in session, and Gov. Butch Otter calling the House’s bluff by offering a transportation funding package.
It’s tempting to write off the 2009 session as a failure based solely on the legislative record on energy issues, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Yes, a crucial bill to assist struggling utility customers fell one Senate vote short of passing. And yes, two important renewable energy bills blew through the House only to be held up by the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. But a retooled green schools bill that failed last session easily passed this time. And importantly, despite the checkered legislative record, energy issues were more visible this session than in any other and the dialog has begun on how the state can begin to implement progressive energy policies next year.
Spurred in part by the strings attached to federal stimulus money for energy projects, utility regulators and the Office of Energy Resources made commitments to give energy efficiency a serious look this year. And finally, regulators, legislators, and the energy office seem to realize the need to begin implementing the state’s neglected 2007 Energy Plan.
While it’s far too early to know how ambitious the Legislature’s interim energy committee will be in tackling legislation that failed this year and other new bills on renewables and efficiency, more legislators are hearing from constituents who are demanding action.
For the final time, here’s the thumbnail summary on where the energy bills wound up. 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 Electricity” section currently looks like this:
ELECTRICITY AND ELECTRICIANSELECTRICITY AND ELECTRICIANS
Electric facility construction, priority processing H0007 – Ch.9
Electrical apprentice registration, license, fees H0111 – Ch.112
Energy facility construction, state siting panel S1027
Energy-efficient school building design S1120
Energy-efficient school building design S1132 – Ch.169
Energy/environment/technology, legislative study comm HCR016 – (A)
Lead acid battery sales, recycling, $10 fee H0170 – Ch.172
Low-impact hydro energy tax credit H0209
Public utility ratemaking treatment, cost recovery S1123 – Ch.145
Public utility, new facilities, charge customers H0052
Renewable energy device, homes, tax exempt H0208
Renewable energy device/facility, property tax exempt H0233
Renewable energy projects, state funds investment H0200
Renewable energy, enterprise zones, tax incentives H0122
Renewable energy, operating property, producer tax H0203
Swan Falls Reaffirmation, preclude PUC decisions S1169 – Ch.241
Utility facilities relocation, public highway planning S1097 – Ch.142
Utility rates, programs for low-income customers S1119
Here’s this year’s energy bill rundown:
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: Signed into law.
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: Never received a hearing.
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: Died in House State Affairs.
Interim Energy Committee Renewal (HCR16)
Extends joint House-Senate Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee for 2009. Key issues before the interim committee will be reviewing the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan to determine how to implement its recommendations, few of which have been acted upon.
Renewable Energy Enterprise Zones (H122)
Would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to designate up to 20 Renewable Energy Enterprise Zones around the state. Also includes a suite of income and property tax incentives to encourage development of renewable energy projects, including anaerobic digesters, biomass, wood waste, wind, solar, geothermal, and low-impact hydro.
Status: Dead for the session.
Low-Income Energy Assistance (S1119)
Would allow utilities to request the PUC to approve low-income bill payment assistance and other programs that gas and electric utilities voluntarily propose to help low-income customers. The programs are completely voluntary on the part of the utilities and would be subject to rate filing procedures and public review and comment.
Status: Failed in Senate, 17-18, and dead for the session.
Energy Efficient Schools (S1132, was S1120 but was amended and renumbered)
Creates a voluntary incentive to encourage school districts to build more energy efficient school buildings by using the design and construction practices of integrated design and fundamental commissioning. The incentive forgives the school district requirement to provide annual matching maintenance funds for the qualifying school building. There is state budget impact, as the funds are already provided by the state general fund to the respective school district.
Status: Signed into law
Utility Project Financing (S1123)
Would allow utilities to apply to the Public Utilities Commission for the PUC to acknowledge the capital expenses for a project such as a transmission or generation facility before the utility embarks on expensive construction project. Supporters say the bill would provide some assurance that the project will eventually be paid for by ratepayers and attract investors. Opponents say the blessing of a project before it’s built would tie the hands of future Commissions. The process would be voluntary for utilities.
Status: Signed into law.
Idaho Energy Resources Authority Bonds (H200)
Would authorize the State Treasurer to purchase bonds a below-market rates from the Idaho Energy Resources Authority to encourage development of certain renewable energy projects.
Status: Dead for the session.
Property Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Devices on Residential and Commercial Properties (H233, was H208 and H209, and both were combined into new H233)
Exempts the value of renewable energy devices such as solar panels or heat pumps on residential and commercial property for purposes of calculating property taxes. The measure would have no negative impact on the state budget, and would not impact county tax collections inasmuch as it would allow homeowners simply to install renewable energy equipment and not have that value added to the value of the property for tax reasons.
Status:Dead for the session.
Adding More Renewables to Current Law Providing Production Tax (H203)
Following on similar measures dealing with wind and geothermal resources in prior sessions, this bill would simply add most other forms of renewable energy to existing law that replaces property taxes assessed on renewable energy projects with a 3 percent gross production tax. The measure has no state general fund impacts, and earlier measures have been endorsed by counties because they provide a more consistent revenue stream from renewable projects over time.
Status: Dead for the session.
II: Idaho Power Puts Integrated Resource Plan on Hold
Idaho Power has asked the Public Utilities Commission for permission to delay its filing of its every-other-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which serves as the utility’s planning roadmap for new generation and energy efficiency resources for the coming 20 years.
The company says the delay will give it time to freshen its projected “load growth” forecasts – or the rate it expects its demand for electricity to increase – in light of the current recession. The economic downturn is slowing the growth of utility energy demands, but Idaho Power had been using pre-recession forecasts that were clearly out of date. In addition, Idaho Power is reconsidering what to do about its proposed transmission line from Owyhee County to Boardman, Ore., along the Columbia River. The line, designed to provide greater movement of power between Idaho and the Oregon-Washington markets, has run into major opposition in Idaho and Oregon, where communities are furious about not being consulted on the transmission line’s route. The line requires approval by Oregon regulators, and Idaho Power has put that process on hold as it considers possible new routes and meets with affected communities.
Rocky Mountain Power, part of PacifiCorp and serving southeast Idaho, has already obtained a delay in filing its IRP because it wants to revise its load growth forecast as well, and has also said it will delay plans to build a new gas plant in light of the slowing demand.
Idaho Power, meanwhile, has not backed off its plans to build a 300MW natural gas plant in Payette County near the Oregon border. However, the $427 million plant has drawn some criticism over whether its currently needed, and Idaho Power’s request for PUC consent on the gas plant is currently being processed by the PUC.
To review Idaho Power’s application to the PUC to delay its IRP, go to www.puc.state.id.us and then “file room” and then “electric cases” and scroll to IPC-E-09-13. And to review the gas plant case, go to IPC-E-09-03.
III: PUC to Hear Idaho Power’s Power Cost Adjustment Request on May 5
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold a workshop on Tuesday, May 5, to review Idaho Power’s request to boost rates by an average of 11.4 percent. The company’s request is separate from a rate case, and focuses on the cost of power the company needs to deal with. If you’re a residential customer, this could mean an increase of 9.3 percent beginning on June 1.
The workshop begins at 7 p.m. on May 5 – Tuesday – at the PUC offices at 472 W. Washington Street. PUC staff and company officials will explain Idaho Power’s request and will field questions from anyone attending. In addition, public comments will be taken by the PUC through May 14.
To review the case and see how Idaho Power says this latest rate hike is necessary, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click “file room” and then “electric utilities” and then scroll to IPC-E-09-11.
IV: NW Energy Coalition’s Spring Conference Set for Boise May 29-30
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is among the speakers and panelists scheduled for the annual NW Energy Coalition’s spring conference and board meeting later this month in Boise. The Coalition, which advocates clean energy policies in the four Pacific Northwest states and British Columbia, includes several Idaho organizations that work on various energy issues. NWEC’s spring meetings typically rotate between Idaho and Montana, while the fall meetings rotate between Oregon and Washington.
The conference portion of the meeting on May 29 features a panel on Idaho’s Energy Future, which will be moderated by Boise State University President John Gardner and including panelists Rich Rayhill of Ridgeline Energy, Doug Glaspey from US Geothermal, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg from the University of Idaho and the Boise Integrated Design Lab, and Celeste Becia, who coordinates energy efficiency programs at Idaho Power. Sen. Crapo is scheduled to deliver the keynote address on Friday.
Saturday will feature the panel, “Bright Future: Solutions for salmon, farms, and communities,” moderated by Justin Hayes from the Idaho Conservation League and including panelists Scott Corwin, Public Power Council; Rebecca Miles from the Nez Perce Tribal Concil, and Dustin Aherin from Citizens for Progress. Saturday will also feature a plenary session on key energy topics, state caucus meetings, and the NWEC’s full board meeting.
The conference and board meeting will be held at the Red Lion Hotel Boise Downtowner. To review the full agenda and for registration information, visit www.nwenergy.org
On The Agenda:
► The Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on May 4, 11, 18, and 26. 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., but the April 20 meeting will begin at 11 a.m. at PUC headquarters.
► The NW Energy Coalition’s spring conference and board meeting is in Boise May 29-30. See above for details.