Idaho Energy Update
July 31, 2009
Two of Idaho’s large electric utilities have agreed to purchase small amounts of power from non-traditional generation resources: A small run-of-river hydro project in Wyoming and an anaerobic digester near Jerome. Meanwhile, Avista Utilities told the PUC it’s withdrawing a request to settle the issue of how “green tags” from renewable energy projects are handled, and Idaho Power files for a big rate increase for its Oregon customers. And Boise State University has finally named a full-time director of its three-year-old Energy Policy Institute.
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: Idaho Power, Rocky Mountain Power Sign Deals for Small Renewables
Two Idaho electric utilities have reached contracts with small generators, including a small hydro project and an anaerobic digester.
The Public Utilities Commission this week approved an agreement between Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, and Lower Valley Energy, Inc., a Wyoming electric cooperative that is selling the utility 940 kilowatts from its Swift Creek hydro project near Afton, Wyo. According to the PUC, the Swift Creek project is a “run-of-river” hydro facility that does not impound water behind a dam but rather uses natural flow and a drop in elevation to turn the turbines. Because of its size, the project qualifies under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA), which requires utilities to purchase power from small qualifying facilities.
Meanwhile, Idaho Power has notified the PUC that it has signed an agreement with Cargill Environmental Finance to purchase power from the new Bettencourt B6 Anaerobic Digester generation unit near Jerome in Gooding County. The digester is expected to add up to 2MW to Idaho Power’s system. That’s roughly enough to power 1,300 homes. The fuel source is animal waste from the Bettencourt Dairy, which is then converted into biogas for generation.
II: Avista Withdraws PUC Request to Settle “Green Tags” Disposition
Spokane-based Avista Utilities has notified the Public Utilities Commission it is withdrawing its application to have the PUC settle the issue of whether “green tags” from renewable energy projects should go to the utility or be kept by the generator.
Avista filed its petition to the PUC in May, asking the Commission to determine the fate of “green tags” that represent the environmental attributes from renewable energy purchased from smaller generators under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 (PURPA). Those tags, also known as “renewable energy credits” or RECs, carry value and are bought and sold as many utilities face requirements to have a percentage of their generation coming from renewable resources. Currently in Idaho, tags remain with the PURPA generators, typically wind farm developers. Avista claimed the price of power it’s required to pay to small PURPA generators is much higher than what it pays other renewable energy developers and that as a result its customers wind up overpaying substantially for the PURPA power. That’s why it says it wants the benefit of the green tags. Several entities, notably Exergy Development Group, which is developing a number of PURPA wind projects in Idaho, urged the PUC to reject Avista’s claims and that the PUC continue allow energy developers to keep the increasingly valuable tags. Utilities can buy them if they’re willing to pony up.
This week, Avista changed course. The company said it learned the PUC is about to initiate a case of its own to examine the way rates for the purchase of PURPA renewable energy are set. Avista said in its filing this week that the new PUC case may reduce the disparity between what it pays PURPA generators and others.
III: Idaho Power Files for Rate Increase in Oregon
Idaho Power, which has run rate increases almost every year for the past few years, today filed its first rate case in Oregon in five years – and if Oregon regulators approve it, ratepayers will feel a jolt.
The utility must answer to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission because it serves about 18,000 customers in eastern Oregon, mostly in the Ontario area. If the Oregon PUC approved Idaho Power’s request for a $7.3 million annual revenue hike, that could translate into a 22.6 percent increase for Oregon customers. Idaho Power notes the long spell between Oregon rate cases, during which it said it has installed nearly 2,000 miles of power lines, two natural gas “peaking” plants in Mountain Home, 21 substation sites, and other improvements – all totaling about $800 million.
“Idaho Power is asking the OPUC for authorization to raise the base rates it charges Oregon retail customers for the first time in five years,” said Director of State Regulation Greg Said. “The company has increased rates related to power supply expenses during these years; however, over that period we made significant investments that are not reflected in rates. These infrastructure investments ensure we can provide reliable power on-demand to our current and future customers. This request seeks to recover those investments.”
Copies of the filing are available on Idaho Power’s Web site (www.idahopower.com/OregonRateFiling), and will be available on the OPUC Web site (www.puc.state.or.us).
IV: BSU Names David Solan to Run Energy Policy Institute
Boise State University this week announced it has appointed David Solan in the Department of Public Policy and Administration to lead the Energy Policy Institute, replacing long-time interim director John Freemuth, who had run EPI since it was created in 2006.
In his new role, Solan will also serve as associate director of EPI’s parent Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a multi-university partnership with the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. Among other things, EPI participates with BSU’s Social Science Research Center in taking public opinion surveys on such issues as electricity rates, power plant siting, renewable energy resources, and other energy issues. EPI has researchers from its home at BSU as well as Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, and INL.
“Energy policy is an increasingly important issue in Idaho, and Dr. Dolan brings outstanding qualifications and experience to his new position,” BSU VP for Research Mark Rudin said in a news release. “As Boise State continues to advance its research agenda in the area of energy policy, EPI and Dr. Solan will play a pivotal role in our continuing progress.”
To read more about EPI, go to www.boisestate.edu/energypolicyinstitute/about.htm
On The Agenda:
► The Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31. 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’s Interim Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee is scheduled to hold what may be its only meeting between legislative sessions on Sept. 1 and 2 in Room 204 of the Capital Annex. And agenda will be posted closer to the meeting.