Idaho Energy Update
August 1, 2008
Idaho Power filed a report this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which the state’s largest utility warned its credit rating is taking a beating because the company has struggled to recover rising power costs over the past several years. Meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission has set an Aug. 8 deadline for those wanting to intervene in Idaho Power’s newest rate case. And Idaho Power’s not alone in facing the rising power-cost blues: Avista Corp., which serves much of north Idaho, this week came in with its own power cost adjustment that could lead to an overall rate hike of about 5.9 percent. Meanwhile, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance today issued its annual report, which shows greater-than-expected energy efficiency gains across our region. And next week’s calendar includes the annual Boise Anniversary Remembrance of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Atomic Bombs on Wednesday in Garden City. Details on these and other news and events follow.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them my way!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Idaho Power Files Cautionary Report to Securities and Exchange Commission
Idaho Power Company and its parent IDACORP this week filed a routine report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the report contains a cautionary note about the utility’s ongoing problems with mounting expenses related to its power costs.
The company filed its periodic “Form 8-K” with the SEC on July 30. Among other things, the report paints a dour picture about the utility’s declining Wall Street bond rating, and as a result the rising costs of borrowing money at a time when Idaho Power is poised to make the largest capital expenditures since construction of the Hells Canyon hydroelectric complex.
Specifically, the utility outlines its concerns over how its power costs are treated. Historically, the company and its ratepayers have benefitted from good water years because it relies more heavily on its cheaper hydropower, while in bad water years such as those over the recent prolonged drought, the company has needed the PUC to approve recovery of added power costs because the utility has to rely on expensive market purchases to make up for the missing hydropower. Over time, the company says, its earnings have taken repeated hits because it has not been able to fully recover power supply expenses. The company says its current rates do not provide an adequate rate of return – and Wall Street is noticing:
“The Company’s inability to recover its authorized rate of return has, in turn, resulted in deterioration of the Company’s credit quality as measured by the national credit rating agencies over the last several years. As noted just this month by a Dow Jones analyst, the Company’s inability to fully recover power supply expenses, coupled with capital expansion outlays, ‘have gradually whittled away the company’s financial strength, say credit ratings firms, which have put Idacorp debt on watch for possible downgrade from its current ratings level, two notches above junk.’ “
What makes things dicier is that Idaho Power is about to launch nearly $1 billion in construction projects in the near-term (2008-2010), with “significant” additional capital projects coming up shortly thereafter. With the company’s bond rating on the decline, the costs of those investments could rise by tens of millions of dollars in added interest payments.
To read the report, go to IDACORP’s site at www.idacorpinc.com and then to “SEC Reports” and then “8-Ks.”
II: PUC Sets Aug. 8 Deadline to Intervene in Idaho Power Rate Case
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has set an Aug. 8 deadline for interested parties wanting to intervene in Idaho Power’s newest rate case, in which the state’s largest utility is seeking a 9.9 percent average rate increase.
Those interested in commenting on the proposed rate hike do not have to file papers to intervene in the case. Intervenors are allowed to present evidence and witnesses and examine other witnesses, although anyone can file comments to the PUC about the case and will also have an opportunity to appear before the Commission once it sets hearings in the case, probably this fall or winter. Idaho Power is asking the PUC to approve various rate increases, including a 6.3 percent residential increase, a 10.6 percent small commercial increase and 15 percent increases for large commercial, industrial and irrigation customers. Idaho Power says the increases are needed to recover $578 million in infrastructure investments over the past three years, as well as significant increases in the amount of power it buys from the market ($2 billion worth over the past three years) to make up for the gap between demand and its ability to generate its own power.
It will be the PUC’s job to weigh the company’s case to recover those costs and also to ensure its required rate of return against the expected arguments from various customers and their representatives who will likely argue the company can find less expensive power resources.
To read the PUC’s news release and review documents filed to date in the case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then to “File Room” and “Electric Cases” and find IPC-E-08-10. The company’s application and supporting statements from various officials, as well as the list of intervenors to date and other information can be found there.
For Idaho Power’s news release, go to http://www.idahopower.com/newsroom/pressreleases/20080627.htm
III: Avista Seeks 5.9 Percent Hike to Offset Higher Power Costs
Spokane-based Avista Corp., which serves about 120,000 customers in the Idaho Panhandle and far more in eastern Washington, is also asking the Idaho PUC to recover higher-than-expected power costs. The utility is seeking to recover about $12.2 million, meaning an overall average rate increase of 5.9 percent.
“The increased power costs reflect the higher cost of natural gas that we use to generate electricity, as well as a late spring runoff this year, which decreased the amount of energy from low-cost hydropower that we use to serve our customers,” Avista VP for rates and regulation Kelly Norwood said in a news release. “We encourage customers to continue to partner with us in keeping energy costs as low as possible by taking additional measures to use energy more efficiently.”
As with Idaho Power’s soaring power costs, the Avista request to the Idaho PUC underscores the need for utilities and their customers to find more ways to reduce demand and to use power more efficiently. As the old saying goes, the cheapest power is the power that’s not used. So the more Idaho utilities must rely on uncertain hydro conditions and unpredictable gas and other fuel costs, the more they and their ratepayers will be subject to these kinds of fluctuations. The best hedge against these kinds of power cost increases is for customers in all rate classes to take advantage of all possible energy efficiency and other energy-saving measures.
For more information about Avista’s recent filing, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and then AVU-E-08-05.
IV: NEEA’s New Report Shows Strong Efficiency Gains Regionwide
The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance on Friday said its 2007 annual report shows NEEA topped its goal for energy savings last year, further proof the Northwest is pacing the rest of the nation in setting and meeting goals for energy efficiency programs. Here’s the NEEA release, including a link to the full report:
NORTHWEST REGION BENEFITS FROM 45 AVERAGE MEGAWATTS SAVED THROUGH UNIQUE COLLABORATION
Annual Report Highlights Region’s Energy Savings and Market Transformation Efforts
Portland, Ore. – The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) today released its 2007 Annual Report, which shows that it exceeded its goal for the year and is on track to deliver 75 aMW to the region by 2009. NEEA reported that savings from its energy efficiency programs and activities over the last three years total 45 average megawatts (aMW), exceeding this year’s target by 73 percent. The annual report can be found at http://www.nwalliance.org/research/annualreport.aspx
The savings were achieved through a little-known collaboration with more than one hundred Northwest utilities, local, state and national government, as well as Bonneville Power Administration and Energy Trust of Oregon. To date, NEEA has achieved cumulative savings of 210 aMW, which includes currently and previously funded energy efficiency regional projects. This is enough energy to power more than 145,000 homes for an entire year.
“NEEA’s annual report showcases the success of our current work to encourage new energy-efficient technologies and business practices,” said Claire Fulenwider, NEEA’s new executive director. “Yet it also aims to highlight the way in which our past projects continue to deliver energy savings today, and will continue to do so for years to come.”
Some of the highlighted accomplishments include NEEA’s momentum in driving energy-efficient operations in the food processing industry and in hospitals. It calls out NEEA’s work in championing the new ENERGY STAR desktop PC specification that requires energy-efficient power supplies and power management features. The report also highlights prominently the continued growth in the Northwest market for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) over the last ten years. With sales of 18 million CFLs in 2007, the Northwest leads the country in the number of CFLs sold per household each year, according to the report. Northwest homes now have about 10 CFLs installed in each home, which is about double the national average.
“Our CFL success story represents the best of what our region can achieve when we innovate and collaborate together,” says NEEA board chair Craig Smith in the report. “For ten years, the region’s utilities, state governments and other energy efficiency advocates have been investing in and working together to increase CFL sales, and now we’re seeing market share growth beyond what we ever imagined.”
The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) is a non-profit organization working to encourage the development and adoption of energy-efficient products and services. NEEA is supported by leading electric utilities, Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon, and energy efficiency industry representatives in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho.
On the Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Aug. 4, 11, 18, and 25. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us
► The Treasure Valley Air Quality Council holds its next meeting on Aug. 5, and among other things the agenda includes an update from the Department of Environmental Quality on the Valley’s ozone “nonattainment” status. The Treasure Valley in southwest Idaho recently exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for ozone, raising the possibility that federal sanctions could be in the Valley’s future unless state, local and regional governments can find ways to lower ozone emissions. The DEQ will also provide updates on a rulemaking on “vapor recovery” of emissions at gas stations, as well as legislation on vehicle emission testing. The meeting will be from 1:30 p.m. through 4 p.m. at DEQ’s Regional Office Conference Room on 1445 N. Orchard Street. For more information, go to www.deq.idaho.gov
► The Boise Anniversary Remembrance of the Hiroshima / Nagasaki Atomic Bombs will be on Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Visual Arts Collective at 3638 Osage in Garden City. The annual event will include photo panels of the bombs’ devastation, presentations by the Idaho Peace Coalition and the Snake River Alliance, as well as music, food and drink. There is a suggested donation of $3-$5 at the door. The event opens at 6 p.m., with the program running from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
► The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service will be taking public comments through Sept. 19 on the multi-agency programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to expedite geothermal leasing on federal lands. BLM and USFS held a workshop in Boise on July 21 to discuss their geothermal leasing program, and they’ll continue to solicit public input on issues that need to be explored as the agencies consider geothermal leases on western lands in the future. More than 50 people turned out for the Boise meeting – twice the attendance of any prior meetings! For more information, go to: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/geothermal/geothermal_nationwide.html
► The Idaho Rural Council is coordinating the Idaho portion of the “Homegrown Prosperity Renewable Energy Tour,” which will include stops in Buhl, Hagerman, Gooding and Boise, between Aug. 11-17. Here’s an excerpt from the tour website explaining its mission, courtesy of Rich Carlson from IRC:
“WORC’s seven-state Homegrown Prosperity Renewable Energy Bus Tour is on the road. The tour is promoting good-paying jobs and income for rural communities and offering solutions to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution. The 12-week outreach tour offers solutions to reduce greenhouse gases; increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses; clean, renewable energy; small-scale cooperative biodiesel production; local foods production, distribution and consumption; and good-paying jobs and income for rural communities.
A four-person crew, traveling in a converted school bus powered by biodiesel, will visit 40 towns in Montana , Wyoming , North Dakota , South Dakota , Colorado , Idaho , and Oregon .Besides using biodiesel instead of petrol diesel, the bus is equipped with solar panels to power a laptop computer and a TV, and there is a solar oven and other displays.
“Our use of oil, gas and coal is changing the climate, leading to drought, wildfires, and other problems for people around the world,” said Jeanne Charter, WORC board member from Shepherd, Mont. “Our energy supplies are less reliable and more costly every day. Energy efficiency and homegrown, clean, renewable energy can reduce the pollution causing climate change while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs and protecting our land, air and water.
“We call on public officials to pass laws and fund programs that reduce climate change and build healthy local economies by increasing energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy. We call on everyone – government, business, and individuals – to make wise decision as consumers, stop energy waste, and reduce climate-changing pollution.”
There are more details about the tour at: http://www.homegrownprosperity.org/bus%2Dtour/
With four energetic college students staffing the bus, we are considering canvassing with progressive energy policy literature in Boise. Our 501 c 3 status
limits our ability to do candidate advocacy, but we hope to be at the Boise Co-op of Friday eve. (15th), the Capitol City Farmer’s Market on the 16th and the “take out” for tubers and rafters at Ann Morrison Park on the 17th.
Earlier in the week we’re on a tour of U.S. Geothermal, hope to stop at several wind projects between the Magic Valley and Boise.
Idaho Rural Council
► The Idaho Legislature’s Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee will meet from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 17 and then from 8 a.m. to noon on Sept. 18 at the Capitol Annex in Room 204 in Boise. The agenda has not been determined; we’ll advise as soon as it is.