Idaho Energy Update
Aug. 28, 2009
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council will likely release its draft 6th Power Plan on Thursday, triggering what is sure to be a lively review and public comment period on how our region will meet its future electricity needs. Also, the May IDACORP shareholders’ resolution was among the biggest of many victories scored by advocates pushing for reduced greenhouse gas emissions from our corporations. And Ridgeline Energy drew a crowd of supporters for its proposed 60-turbine Rockland Wind Farm in Power County, while the PUC is taking comments on a request by Intermountain Gas that could mean another nice drop in your natural gas rates.
And don’t forget the Big Kokanee Outdoor Day tomorrow from Boise to Idaho City! See On the Agenda below for more details.
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: NW Power Council May Release 6th Power Plan Draft Next Week
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which two weeks ago deadlocked over whether to release its long-awaited “Sixth Power Plan” draft, may finally release the draft at its meeting next Thursday.
The Council, made up of two gubernatorial appointees from the four northwestern states, became snarled in a regional dispute of sorts when the Idaho and Montana members voted two weeks ago against releasing the Power Plan for public comment and review. Members from Washington and Oregon voted to release it to the public. This week, members met to try to iron out their differences (Idaho members argued the Plan’s conservation targets were too ambitious, among other things), and now it appears the Council will vote on Sept. 3 to release the draft to the public.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council was created by Congress in 1980 as part of the Northwest Power Act and was tasked to implement programs to protect fish and wildlife impacted by the Columbia and Snake River hydro system, as well as develop plans to ensure the region has ample energy supplies at the least financial and environmental costs. The Council develops a Power Plan every five years, and this 6th Plan is the one that’s been held up by interior state members who have expressed reservations. When released, the Plan is expected to project that our region can meet its future electricity needs primarily through stepped-up energy conservation and efficiency measures as well as new renewable energy development.
For more information on the plan and on next Thursday’s meeting, go to www.nwcouncil.org
II: IDACORP Greenhouse Gas Resolution Leads a Good Year for Shareholders
It’s been a good year for those who have prodded corporate America to work harder to acknowledge their role in greenhouse gas emissions and to begin doing something about it. The May 21 IDACORP shareholders’ resolution directing Idaho’s largest utility to plan how to reduce its carbon emissions was but the best example nationwide of the message that shareholders, investors, and others are sending. Here’s a piece from Marc Gunther at Greenbiz.com summarizing just some of the progress made so far this year:
A Historic Win for Green Shareholders
Sometimes, history is made quietly.
For decades, shareholder activists have filed dozens, if not hundreds, of resolutions with public companies asking them to improve their environmental policies and practices. Not one passed — until this year.
The breakthrough vote came in May at IdaCorp., a $988-million a year utility company and independent power producer based in Boise, Idaho. Despite the usual opposition from management, the owners of 51.2 percent of IdaCorp.’s shares voted to ask the company to adopt greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Hardly anyone noticed at the time because, well, it was Idaho and not even the shareholder activists expected a victory. “I expected a vote of about 25 percent,” said Michael Passoff of As You Sow, a nonprofit group that organized the investor vote.
Since then, the company responded. Legally, it didn’t have to act because, as you may know, most shareholder votes are “precatory,” a fancy legal term meaning that management can ignore even a majority of the company’s owners. In any event, IdaCorp. agreed to adopt goals for curbing the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming, issued its first request for a proposal for a wind farm and submitted a “smart grid” proposal, hoping to tap into the federal government’s stimulus money to upgrade the grid.
“The company was stuck in its ways,” Passoff said, “and I think the shareholder vote woke them up. To their credit, they’ve been very responsive. We seem to be developing a good working relationship with them.”
The IdaCorp. vote was the highlight of a very good year of investor engagement with companies, according to a recap from Ceres, a coalition of institutional investors and environmental groups that works to get companies to become more sustainable.
“There’s growing investor concern about climate risk, and there’s a growing corporate response,” said Rob Berridge, manager of investor programs at Ceres, when we spoke by phone. “We’re very pleased with the agreements that investors were able get from companies.”
Among the 2009 highlights:
Chevron agreed to develop and disclose a business plan setting an annual GHG emissions reduction target for its operations, and to track emissions from its products
Citigroup agreed to establish a due diligence process loans related to mountain top removal (MTR) coal mining and to consider shareholder input in the development of that process
Pulte, the nation’s largest homebuilder, agreed to establish quantitative emissions reduction goals for its operations.
Of the 68 climate-related shareholder resolutions filed by investors in 2009, 31 were withdrawn after the companies agreed to take positive steps, according to Ceres.
Why the encouraging news?
Partly because Ceres has clout. It leads an alliance of 80 investors, called the Investor Network on Climate Risk, with assets of more than $7 trillion. Big funds like CalSTRS, the New York City and state of Connecticut pension fund are active members.
Congressional action on climate regulation also came into play, we can assume. With the government moving to regulate GHG emissions, companies need to pay attention to climate-related risks.
What’s more, as Ceres notes, financial analysts who advise shareholders are taking the climate issue seriously. RiskMetrics Group (parent company of the powerful Institutional Shareholder Services proxy advisor) supported at least 21 resolutions, well over half of those that went to a vote.
Finally, as the climate crisis gets more attention, particularly from smart and influential companies like GE and DuPont, few companies want to be seen as laggards.
In that regard, the most surprising vote of the 2009 shareholder season may have been one at coal company Massey Energy, where a climate-change resolution got 45.6 percent support.
This can’t have been welcome news to Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship. He’s the CEO who said last year that “I don’t believe climate change is real” and that “the greeniacs are taking over the world.” (If only.) Of Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Blankenship said: “They’re totally wrong. What they do is nonsense….They’re all crazy.”
It’s safe to assume that Massey, with a CEO like Blankenship, has a conservative investor base. So that 45 percent vote tells you that times are changing.
GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Marc Gunther blogs at www.marcgunther.com.
III: Enthusiasm in Power County Over Ridgeline Wind Proposal
Ridgeline Energy, which through no fault of its own was told to resubmit its proposal for a 150-turbine wind project in Bingham County, drew a crowd of more than 50 supportive residents in American Falls to discuss its proposed Rockland Wind Farm in Power County.
Ridgeline’s project, a 60-turbine wind farm that would cover about 22,000 acres in the sparsely populated southeast Idaho county, will likely be submitted to the Power County Planning and Zoning Commission sometime in September, the Idaho Business Review reported Tuesday. Providing a purchaser for the power can be found and a contract signed, construction on the project would begin in 2010 and employ up to 100 workers.
Last week, the Idaho State Journal reported that Bingham County Judge Richard St. Clair ruled a number of mistakes were made by the county in its handling of Ridgeline’s application to build its Goshen South project in Wolverine Canyon. Among other things, the judge ruled two members of the Bingham County Planning and Zoning Commission had a conflict of interest in processing the project but took part in it anyway. County officials are in the process of writing new planning ordinances dealing with energy projects, which could affect the project, so Ridgeline may need to re-submit its application or wait until the new ordinances are in effect, the newspaper reported. It also reported that Ridgeline’s Goshen South project manager, Randy Gardner, said the company will likely re-apply within the next three months.
IV: Idaho PUC Taking Comments on Intermountain Gas Rate Cut Request
While it’s unlikely there will be much opposition, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission says it will be taking public comments through Sept. 9 on a proposal by Intermountain Gas Co. to trim its gas rates by 22 percent effective Oct. 1.
As noted here last week, Idaho’s largest natural gas utility said its request was made possible by abundant gas supplies and plunging gas prices. Intermountain said its request to the PUC would result in residential customers using natural gas for space heating and water heating saving an average of 22.2 percent, or $16.23 a month, while those using natural gas only for space heating saving an average of $11.27 a month, or 20.2 percent, based on average weather and use.
Intermountain Gas, like Idaho’s regulated electric utilities, files annual cost adjustments to the PUC to reflect changes in fuel prices and other power cost variables. In the case of Intermountain, that’s primarily gas availability and price. In the case of electric utilities, variables can include hydro conditions and coal and gas prices, depending on power sources. These annual cost adjustments are separate from periodic rate increases, and the adjustments can mean decreases in bills such as in this case, or increases in bills, such as in Idaho Power’s recent Power Cost Adjustment that was approved by the PUC.
The PUC says that, if approved, this would be Intermountain’s third reduction in four years of its annual Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment, which is adjusted every Oct. 1. The PUC is accepting comments on the case through Sept. 9. To comment or to review documents in this case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “Comments & Questions” to comment, or click “File Room” and then “Gas Cases” and then INT-G-09-02. Comments can also be mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074 or faxed to (208) 334-3762.
On The Agenda:
► The Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Aug. 31 and Sept. 14 and 28. 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.
► Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, the Be Outside Initiative and the U.S. Forest Service are sponsoring Kokanee Outdoor Day Aug. 29 in Idaho City. The free event runs from noon to 6 p.m. and is a celebration of the famed red fish that make a run up Mores Creek. The event includes a number of activities along Mores Creek on Highway 21 and a festival at the Idaho City Park. For more information, contact Jessica Ruehrwein at the Sierra Club at 384-1023 or Pam Elkovich at Trout Unlimited at 345-9800. To see the flier for the event, go to: http://www.idahocitychamber.com/KokaneeDays09.pdf
►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.
►Idaho Power will resume its Integrated Resource Plan development process with a meeting of the Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Committee on Sept. 17. The planning process was recessed last spring and the Public Utilities Commission granted Idaho Power an extension until the end of the year in light of delays on a key Idaho-Oregon transmission line and the need to update the company’s forecasts in light of the current recession. The meetings are open to the public and are held at Idaho Power’s Boise’s headquarters. For more information on the IRP, visit: http://www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/PlanningForFuture/irp/2009/default.cfm