Idaho Energy Update
April 4, 2008
The 2008 Idaho Legislature adjourned Wednesday night, ending a session in which lawmakers accomplished very little to address Idaho’s energy challenges or climate issues. As mentioned below, we’re attaching two charts showing how the Legislature fared with key energy bills, and also how it failed to address the recommendations in the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan – adopted with much fanfare in the last session but so far not implemented.
Meanwhile, the would-be developer of a nuclear power plant south of Boise suddenly shunned Owyhee County and is now courting adjacent Elmore County. Our news release on that development is also below.
And the Public Utilities Commission has set a May 15 deadline for public comments on Idaho Power’s request to raise its energy efficiency tariff to better fund the utility’s conservation programs. Finally, the Boise Weekly reports that Intermountain Gas Co., easily Idaho’s largest natural gas utility, is on the blocks and will likely be sold this year.
See below for more information on these and other developments.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them my way!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
(208) 344-9161 office
(208) 841-6982 cell
I: Legislators Leave Town With Little to Show on the Energy Front
The Idaho Legislature called it quits Wednesday, ending another session in which the 2007 Energy Plan remained in limbo and little action taken to promote clean energy resources, energy efficiency and conservation, or climate change. We won’t re-run here the more detailed roster of energy-related legislation we’ve provided during the session, but attached you’ll find charts showing the fate of those bills, as well as the status of the more than 40 recommendations in the Energy Plan that continue to languish without action by the Legislature or state agencies. (Note to online readers: We have not yet posted these charts on the site; if you would like to receive the charts via e-mail, please contact me at [email protected]).
Idaho clean energy advocates warned when the Legislature adopted the energy plan in January 2007 that there was a serious risk the plan would end up gathering dust, its key recommendations ignored. It’s been two legislative sessions, and that appears to be happening. Meanwhile, the bills that were approved by lawmakers in the 2008 session were mostly modest. Here’s an excerpt from the Alliance’s post-session news release:
“The Legislature spent one year and $300,000 to write the state’s energy plan, and just finished another session without implementing the recommendations needing legislative action,” said Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley. “The one energy plan recommendation adopted in the 2008 session requires the state to build energy efficient buildings – and even that bill was drastically watered down. We warned when the energy plan was adopted more than a year ago there was a risk of the plan not being implemented, and that’s exactly what is happening.”
The 2007 energy plan contains 44 specific actions recommended to be taken by the Legislature, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, and other state agencies. Almost none have been adopted. In addition, the Legislature’s 2008 record in handling other energy-related bills was equally disappointing, Shipley said.
“The Legislature did pass bills to encourage development of geothermal energy by eliminating the tax on developer’s equipment in exchange for a tax on energy production, which should help that industry as it did the wind industry in 2007,” Shipley said. “And legislators did pass measures to encourage renewable energy development on state endowment lands. But Idaho continues to lag behind its neighbors in encouraging renewable energy development as well as promoting energy efficiency and conservation. And the Legislature continues to be silent on the real threat of climate change and energy-related carbon emissions.”
Among the bills and resolutions that were killed by lawmakers this session were measures that would create a legitimate state “siting” body to review large private power plants; to allow for a non-binding public vote on new nuclear power plants; to place a two-year moratorium on speculative merchant thermal power plants; to help Idaho schools build “green buildings” that save energy and are more healthy; and to study how Idaho can best implement the energy plan and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even a modest resolution commending the good work being taken by state and local agencies and other entities to address climate issues was killed in a House committee. Legislators did, however, pass two tax breaks for an already-subsidized French-controlled firm considering Idaho as a site for its uranium enrichment plant.
“States around Idaho are seriously addressing the energy and climate issues, and Idaho risks falling further behind every year it fails to act,” Shipley said. “Eventually, these decisions will be made. The question is whether Idaho chooses to make them or waits for inevitable federal mandates.”
Following is a list of the major energy-related bills. Click the links for the bill text and its disposition.
Energy Efficient State Buildings Act . . . . . . .H0422 – Ch.274
Energy facility siting, construction moratorium. . . . . .S1314
Energy facility, commercial purpose, endowment landsH0500 – Ch.115
Energy Resources Office, approp. . . . . . . . . S1480 – Ch.281
Energy Resources Office, approp, add’l.. . . . . . . . . . H0681
Energy savings performance, facilities, contractorsH0556 – Ch.366
Energy-producing materials, sales tax exemption. .H0561 – Ch.233
Geothermal energy electrical production, tax . . .H0529 – Ch.227
Major energy facilities, siting certificate. . . . . . . .S1293
Nuclear energy use, public advisory vote . . . . . . . . .S1289
Renewable energy development on endowment lands. . . . . .HCR054
Renewable energy resources, federal lands, funds .H0432 – Ch.206
Resources Office, collaborative report, energy options . SCR128
School building design, energy efficiency. . . . . . . . .S1412
II: Idaho Nuke Plant Developer Uproots from Owyhee, Courts Elmore
You’ve heard the breaking news this morning about Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., and its Idaho Energy Complex pulling out of Owyhee County and turning its attentions to Elmore. By now, the shock of losing a prospective cash cow is slowly sinking in in Owyhee County, just as the visions of nuclear sugarplums are beginning to dance in the heads of many in Elmore County. As we explain below, the reasons given for bailing on Owyhee are as flimsy as the reasons for opting instead to build next door. Ultimately, it’s a bad idea wherever AEHI chooses to settle. A lot will be happening in the next several weeks on the proposed nuclear plant, and we’ll keep you posted here. For now, here’s the Alliance’s take on what happened today:
“Nomad Nuke Plant” Pulls Up Stakes in Owyhee; Targets Elmore County
BOISE – Friday’s announcement by the Idaho Energy Complex that it’s bailing out of Owyhee County in favor of adjacent Elmore County should send chills through the new target for the proposed merchant nuclear power plant, the Snake River Alliance said.
“The last thing Idaho needs is a nomad nuclear power plant developer bouncing from county to county, looking for the best deal for his outrageously bad idea,” Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. “Moving this scheme 15 miles upstream on the Snake River and across the county line doesn’t make it any more acceptable. It was a horrible idea at C.J. Strike Reservoir and it’s an equally bad idea outside of Mountain Home.”
The Idaho Energy Complex, owned by Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., and developer Don Gillispie, said it was leaving Owyhee County for a 1,400-acre site in Elmore County “near the north shore of the Snake River.” Scrambling for excuses, Gillispie said the results of geologic studies “are adding significantly to analytical and construction expense.” That, along with high land costs, made the Owyhee site less attractive than Elmore County, he said.
Less than a month ago, Gillispie wrote an opinion piece in The Idaho Statesman in which he said: “We know our site is the perfect place for a reactor. Preliminary studies show our site has stable geology and we have more than enough water rights for our dry-type reactors. Mountain Home Air Force Base is nearby, making it quite secure.”
Now it seems the geology was one reason for the move. It’s unclear how Mountain Home Air Force Base will react to a reactor as a next-door neighbor. Or those who run the observatory at Bruneau Sand Dunes, where the immense light pollution caused by a huge power plant would devastate the observatory’s operations.
“Mr. Gillispie says his project’s costs were increasing in part due to the geologic nature of the old site, and we’re supposed to believe things will be any different 15 miles away?” Shipley said. “Besides, other issues remain that made this plant a non-starter, including the Snake River water crisis, insurmountable problems with highly radioactive waste that will now be stored in Elmore County, the lack of any utility interest in buying the power, the lack of transmission, and others.”
Shipley said billionaire investor Warrant Buffett spent $13 million to study a nuclear plant site in Payette County for his utilities before pulling the plug on that project, citing soaring costs of building a nuclear plant.
“We said then that if Warren Buffett and one of the nation’s largest utility companies can’t make a merchant nuclear plant in Idaho work, there is no way a tiny startup from Virginia can pull it off,” Shipley said. She also said the AEHI Owhyee project caught Idahoans by surprise when it was surfaced in 2006, but that won’t happen again.
“The opposition to AEHI’s ill-conceived merchant nuclear plant is far stronger today than it was when Mr. Gillispie came to Idaho in 2006,” Shipley said. “AEHI is now starting from scratch and its proposal will meet even greater and more formidable opposition in Elmore County. We guarantee officials there will soon be made aware of his company’s dismal record in Owyhee County. In fact, we encourage Elmore County officials to give their colleagues next door a call to see what they’ll be dealing with in the months ahead – assuming of course that AEHI doesn’t pack up and move to another county first.”
Shipley said opposition to the AEHI plant was not limited to Owyhee County residents – in fact many opponents live in Elmore County. Changing the site will have no impact on the growing campaign to prevent construction of AEHI’s plant in Elmore County or anywhere else in Idaho.
“We’ve said all along that AEHI was pulling the wool over the eyes of Owhyee County officials. We will make sure it does not happen in Elmore. This company has a record of building structures without permits and not responding to county demands to pay its permit fees. It has not been a good corporate citizen of Owyhee County or of Idaho.”
The Alliance attended the March 12 Owyhee County Planning & Zoning meeting at which the Idaho Energy Complex was seeking a permit for the two meteorological towers and two trailers the company had already – and illegally – installed at its site. At that meeting, IEC and AEHI representatives told Owyhee County: “It is the applicant’s objective and purpose to have a sincere good-faith effort” in dealing with the county. That meeting was 23 days ago. AEHI had to have known at the time it was preparing to move its proposed plant to Elmore County, since it now claims it has access to a 1,400-acre site there.
The Snake River Alliance is a nonprofit organization working toward energy solutions for Idaho and dedicated to serving as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog.
III: Idaho PUC Sets Comment Deadline for Idaho Power Conservation Program
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission this week set a May 15 deadline for those interested in commenting on Idaho Power’s request to increase its “energy efficiency rider” from the current 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of its revenues to fund new and existing energy efficiency and conservation programs. The increase in the rider is long overdue, and should provide significant new revenues to fund the utility’s conservation programs.
In an order issued earlier this week, the PUC set May 15 as the deadline for public comment on the company’s proposal.
Idaho Power’s request would add less than 1 percent to a typical residential electricity bill, while generating an estimated $16 million a year for the company’s energy efficiency programs – up from the $7 million a year it collects under the current 1.5 percent tariff.
Clean energy advocates have long encouraged the state’s largest utility to return to the PUC with such a request, as the company has made progress in ramping up its energy efficiency, conservation and related programs. The monthly bill increase for all classes is small compared to the larger benefit from investing in energy-savings programs.
To review the proposal, the Commission’s order, and related documents, go to the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us and go to the File Room, then Electric Cases, and then to IPC-E-08-03.
IV: Boise Weekly: Intermountain Gas May Be on the Market
The Boise Weekly is reporting that Intermountain Gas, far and away Idaho’s largest gas utility, will likely be sold this year. The newspaper reported company officials have already briefed the Idaho Public Utilities Commission on the developments.
Here’s what the Weekly had to say:
POSTED ON APRIL 3, 2008:
Intermountain Gas Confirms Sale
By Deanna Darr
Roughly 330 Intermountain Gas Company employees are wondering about the security of their jobs this morning.
Bill Glynn, president of the Boise-based Intermountain Gas and its parent company, Intermountain Industries, confirmed to BW that the privately held utility is moving forward with the sale of the company.
While Glynn declined to discuss a possible sales price, he said there are numerous companies interested in buying Intermountain Gas. If all goes as planned, the sale could be final by this fall or earlier.
Employees and the Public Utilities Commission were notified of the decision to sell earlier this week. While the announcement leaves some employees wondering about their futures, Glynn said he hopes there will be minimal changes in either employment or operations following the sale.
“We’ve put a lot of heart and soul into this company and we want it run very similar to how we run it,” he said. “There will be no material change to the employee base. It is a local business. The demand is very, very local.”
A spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission confirmed that Intermountain Gas officials had met with two of the three commissioners to discuss the possibility of the sale.
“We have received word of a possible sale,” said Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Intermountain Gas.
The company, which began serving customers in 1955, now has more than 300,000 customers in Idaho—the majority of which are residential, followed by small commercial and industrial.
The utility was a public company in the 1970s, but a group of investors consolidated in the mid-1980s after a hostile takeover bid. It has been privately held by the same group of investors since then.
The parent company, Intermountain Industries, also owns Petroglyph Energy, which is involved in the production of oil and gas reserves in Colorado and Utah, but is still Boise-based.
Glynn said Intermountain Gas has had many offers to sell over the years, but the recent trend toward consolidation in the energy industry, as well as the increasing interest in energy as an investment prompted the sale.
The company has hired Citigroup investment banking firm to manage the sale, but Glynn said the owners will have the final decision over who will ultimately take over Intermountain Gas.
“If the consolidation is occurring, and we think it is going to continue, and we and we want to manage the outcome, you want to manage while you’re at the top of your game,” Glynn said.
No formal application for a sale has been made, and a review of a sale by the PUC would take into account any potential buyer’s ability to manage the customer load and maintain price structures and stability, Fadness said. The review would also take into account the financial viability of the buyer.
V: Sen. Craig Backs Adoption of Credits for Renewables
Sen. Larry Craig issued a release Thursday in which he endorses needed tax credits for renewable energy resources. Many of you have contacted members of Idaho’s Congressional delegation urging members’ support of the credits, particularly the production tax credit (PTC) so critical to financing wind projects. We especially salute Bill Chisholm of the Idaho Energy Education Project, who led the drive in Idaho to drum up support in the state’s delegation. Here’s the release from Sen. Craig’s office:
Washington, D.C. — Idaho Senator Larry Craig, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, today joined a bipartisan group of senators in supporting the Clean Energy Tax Stimulus Act of 2008, a bill to extend clean energy tax credits set to expire at year’s end.
The bipartisan legislation, which was introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell and John Ensign, calls for a one-year extension of the renewable energy production tax credit as well as an additional eight years for the solar energy and fuel cell investment tax credit.
“Idaho benefits from nearly every provision in this tax cut,” Craig said. “From the wind turbines that are popping up throughout the state, to our new geothermal power plant near Raft River, to our solar manufacturing plant in Pocatello, all of Idaho’s clean energy projects will benefit.”
“The energy sources promoted in this bill, when coupled with our existing hydroelectric and nuclear facilities, are an essential part of keeping our economy vibrant and competitive,” Craig continued. “This bill must be passed by both chambers and signed by the President in the timeliest fashion possible.”
In addition to extending production and solar tax credits, the legislation introduced today authorizes $400 million for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, and extends tax credits for those who modify or build energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings. The bill also extends credits for energy efficient appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators.
As a member Board of the Alliance to Save Energy, Craig has been a strong supporter for the extension of clean energy tax credits to achieve a healthier economy, cleaner environment and greater energy security.
On the Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on April 7, 15, 21, and 28. March 31. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us
► William McDonough, winner of the 1996 Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and renowned expert on sustainable design, will be part of the Boise State University Distinguished Lecture Series on April 17 – just before Earth Day. McDonough was recognized by Time magazine in 1999 as a “Hero for the Planet,” and has collected several other awards and honors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and others. His lecture on “The Next Industrial Revolution” will be at 7 p.m. in the Morrison Center. Tickets are free, but on a first-come basis. Doors open at 6 p.m. and parking is free.
► The NW Energy Coalition’s spring conference and board meeting is May 30-31 in Helena. Go to www.nwenergy.org for registration and other information, including the draft agenda.
► The Idaho Green Expo runs May 17-18 at the Boise Centre on the Grove in Boise. See www.idahogreenexpo.org for more information.