Idaho Energy Update
Oct. 3, 2008
Elmore County’s Planning & Zoning Commission opens a series of hearings this week on a rezoning request by the developer of a would-be nuclear reactor south of Mountain Home. In other news this week, the Idaho PUC set workshops to discuss impacts of rising energy bills on consumers; a big new Intermountain Gas price hike has taken effect; DOE has a new energy-saving website up; the Salmon River Electric Co-op is looking at renewables; and Idaho Power has posted a new solar study for SW Idaho on its website.
On behalf of the NW Energy Coalition and its Idaho Caucus, we want to extend our appreciation to the GREAT crowd that showed up for Wednesday’s NWEC Idaho Caucus meeting. We were fortunate to have Nancy Hirsh on hand from NEWC in Seattle, and Suzanne Leta Liou on the phone from Renewable Northwest Project. And the strong showing from our local groups and members made for a productive meeting! There’s no question but that there is a growing mass of enthusiasm in energy work in Idaho, and we appreciate the work you’re all doing and the contributions you’re making.
For details on these and other developments, please read on.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them my way!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Elmore P&Z Rezoning Hearings on Nuke Plant Begin Wednesday
The Elmore County Planning and Zoning Commission opens a series of public hearings on Alternative Energy Holdings’ rezoning request for its proposed nuclear reactor near Hammett on Wednesday.
The first of what are expected to be four public hearings will convene at 6:30 p.m. at Mountain Home Junior High School and will provide AEHI and supporters of the project to make their case. That will be followed by two more meetings on Oct. 22 and 29 to allow groups and individuals to comment, followed by a meeting on Nov. 5 at which the county will give AEHI time to respond.
Written comments on AEHI’s rezoning request were due earlier this week on Oct. 1, and the P&Z received a significant number of submittals. Furthermore, county officials anticipate huge crowds at the coming rezoning hearings and have hired a consultant, Jerry Mason, to serve as a hearing officer to manage the proceedings.
The rezoning application is an important step for AEHI to move forward on its controversial reactor proposal, but it is only the first step. Even if the P&Z recommends approval of the rezoning application from agricultural to heavy industrial, AEHI must still obtain a required conditional use permit for its project – and of course it must submit its huge operating license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC application isn’t expected to be filed until at least next year at this time, and will cost tens of millions of dollars that so far AEHI does not have. In addition, the company has yet to secure the property on which it hopes to build the reactor.
Those with questions about how the hearings will work or about how to testify before the P&Z Commission can contact the Commission at (208) 587-2142.
II: Idaho PUC Sets Workshops to Discuss Energy Sticker Shock on Low-Income Customers
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a pair of technical workshops this month to explore the growing number of issues confronting Idahoans struggling to pay their electric and gas bills in light of a series of rate increases. In announcing the hearings, the Commission issued an order that starkly summarizes the challenges facing more Idaho ratepayers:
“The Commission recognizes that there are a variety of factors contributing to significant upward pressure on electric and natural gas rates in Idaho and energy affordability has become a central issue for many Idaho households and businesses. Utilities are facing the prospect of more customers being unable to pay their energy bills in full and/or on time. Customers who are unemployed, have lower incomes, and/or have fixed incomes that fail to keep pace with inflation are disproportionately affected by rising energy costs, since they must devote an increasingly larger share of their income to paying for natural gas and electricity.”
So the Commission has ordered two workshops – on Oct. 14 and Oct. 22 – to explore such issues as bill payment plans; bill payment assistance; bill reduction through energy-saving measures such as weatherization and conservation; removal of barriers to obtain or keep service; and “case management” to provide more personal assistance to those struggling to pay their bills. The workshops both begin at 10 a.m. and will be held at the PUC hearing room at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise.
Idaho’s three regulated electric utilities (Idaho Power, Avista and Rocky Mountain Power) as well as Intermountain Gas have been told to attend the workshops. Utility customers and groups representing customers are also invited to attend.
PUC staff will file comments on the issues by Nov. 14, after which the utilities and the public will have a chance to respond to those comments by Dec. 8. Commission staff will then submit a final report by Dec. 30. Depending on how this phase of the process moves forward, the Commission will likely hold hearings around the state to give customers who can’t attend the Boise workshops an opportunity to present their views.
For more information, go to the PUC’s website at www.puc.idaho.gov and then to “File Room” and then “Multi-utility Cases” and then to GNR-U-08-01.
III: Intermountain Gas Rate Hike Takes Effect
Speaking of utility cost increases, customers of Intermountain Gas Co., Idaho’s largest gas utility, will see a sharp jump in their gas bills following implementation of a new gas supply charge approved by the Public Utilities Commission. The new rates will mean an increase of about $12.30 a month for residential customers who use gas for space and water heating. Here’s the news release from the PUC:
October 1, 2008
Case No. INT-G-08-03
Contact: Gene Fadness (208) 334-0339, 890-2712
Wholesale market prices force increase in gas supply surcharge
After two years of receiving credits, customers of Intermountain Gas will this year pay a surcharge on their gas bills as a result of increasing worldwide demand for energy and production constraints that contributed to energy prices hitting record highs over the past year.
The surcharge, effective today, increases the gas supply portion of Intermountain Gas rates from 63.6 cents per therm to about 78.5 cents per therm. For an average residential customer who uses natural gas for space heating only, the proposed one-year increase is about $7.90 per month, or about 15 percent. For residential customers who use natural gas for space and water heating, the increase is about $12.30 per month or about 18 percent. Commercial customers’ bills will increase by about $55.30 per month, or 18 percent.
The surcharge increases the company’s annual revenue by $54.3 million. None of that revenue can go to increase company profits. Revenues from the surcharge are kept in a deferred account, audited by the commission, and are used only to meet gas supply and related expenses, including transportation and storage.
Every year on Oct. 1, gas rates are adjusted either downward or upward through the Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment (PGA) process to account for the always-fluctuating wholesale prices for natural gas. When wholesale gas prices are lower than anticipated, customers get a credit. When they are higher, customers get a surcharge. In 2007, Intermountain Gas customers got an 8 percent PGA decrease. In 2006, customers got a 4 percent decrease. However, during the last year wholesale gas market prices have soared to levels not seen since Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.
Although natural gas prices have declined in recent months, prices remain above levels at this time a year ago. If prices materially deviate from the 78.5 cents per therm approved by the commission, Intermountain Gas will file an application to adjust rates accordingly.
“Wholesale natural gas prices fluctuate, and recently have become quite volatile,” the commission said. It directed Intermountain Gas to work with commission staff to explore the creation of a low-income weatherization program for residences heated using natural gas. Intermountain Gas, with other utilities, will also be participating in commission-sponsored energy affordability workshops planned this fall.
Interested parties may petition the commission for reconsideration by no later than Oct. 21. Petitions for reconsideration must set forth specifically why the petitioner contends that the order is unreasonable, unlawful or erroneous. Petitions should include a statement of the nature and quantity of evidence the petitioner will offer if reconsideration is granted.
Petitions can be delivered to the commission at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise, mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID, 83720-0074, or faxed to 208-334-3762.
A full text of the commission’s order, along with other documents related to this case, is available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room” and then on “Gas Cases” and scroll down to Case Number INT-G-08-03.
IV: DOE Offers Energy-Saving Tips for Energy Awareness Month
In last week’s Idaho Energy Update, we reported on a series of programs Idaho Power is holding as part of “Energy Awareness Month,” which runs through October. Also weighing in is the U.S. Department of Energy with its “Stay Warm, Save Money” campaign.
DOE has rolled out its new web page at www.energysavers.gov to help consumers with tips on energy efficiency and conservation measures.
Beyond offering advice on such things as how to find out whether you can receive assistance from your utility or the state, or how to conduct an energy audit or find air leaks, the site is a good jumping-off point to a number of other DOE pages on energy efficiency and conservation. It’s worth a look!
V: Salmon River Co-Op May Look at Renewables
The Salmon River Electric Cooperative, which serves the Challis area, recently celebrated adding its 2,000th member, according to the Challis Messenger. The paper also reports the utility co-op is beginning to explore renewable energy options in light of pending contract changes with its primary supplier, Bonneville Power Administration.
Here’s an excerpt from the Messenger story by Todd Adams:
“Executive Secretary Vi Stevens announced at the September 24 meeting that 12 new members had joined SREC in August and three had left, leaving 2,008 on the books by the end of the month.
By comparison, Co-op membership stood at about 1,500 during the Cyprus-Thompson construction boom years of the mid-1980s, Stevens told The Challis Messenger.
Much of this month’s meeting was routine business, but important decisions await the board in the near future, Manager Ken Dizes said. At their October 15 meeting, directors must decide whether or not to sign a power supply contract with PNGC Power.
At their November 19 meeting, a similar contract with the Bonneville Power Administration will be on the table. Directors will also review the co-op’s 2009 budget. So far, BPA has not released terms of the new contracts, leaving SREC in the dark.
In December, the SREC board must review a Cost of Service Analysis (COSA) and set electricity rates for 2009.
SREC is still working on getting Forest Service approval for SREC’s special use permit for the power line along the upper Salmon River corridor. The co-op has selected a contractor to do a cultural resource survey along the transmission line, running through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA), for any archaeological sites and artifacts.
The private firm hopes to finish the survey before the snow flies, Diizes said. SREC has 83 miles of overhead line and 14 miles of underground line within SNRA boundaries.
Dizes is excited about a solar radiation monitoring project and predicts it will show this area has high potential to produce solar energy. SREC is working in partnership with the University of Oregon to install the solar site near the Round Valley Substation south of Challis.
A November 6 energy cluster meeting in Idaho Falls will see SREC and other economic development partners discuss alternative energy and investing in such projects. They will discuss proposed biomass generation near Salmon, the Areva nuclear project and coal gasification near Idaho Falls, as well as other wind, solar and hydro projects proposed in the area.
The meeting will be a good opportunity for SREC to learn about alternative energy. “I think this will benefit members,” Dizes said.
Representatives of the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership would like to visit with SREC board members in October about the co-op’s Good Neighbor program, which allows members to assist those who are less fortunate in paying for their power bills.”
All good news, for the most part. The Areva nuclear project is actually a proposed uranium enrichment facility and will not generate power for retail sales. But the utility’s interest in solar and other renewables is a good sign as Salmon River may show leadership among non-regulated utilities in looking beyond Bonneville and to renewable energy resources.
VI: Idaho Power Publishes Solar Study for SW Idaho
Idaho Power Co. has posted its recent solar study for Southwestern Idaho on its web site. The study, conducted by Black and Veatch, provides extensive information about various forms of solar power, as well as information about solar’s potential in the company’s territory.
To review the study, go to: http://www.idahopower.com/energycenter/irp/2009/advisoryCouncilmtg_schedule.cfm
Or, go to www.idahopower.com and then to “energy center” and then to “integrated resource plan” and then “2009 IRP” and then “advisory council meeting schedule.”
On the Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Oct. 6, 20, and 27. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us
► The Snake River Alliance is sponsoring the second in a series of energy breakfasts in Hailey on Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at CK’s Restaurant. This month’s breakfast is “Utilizing Solar Power in the Wood River Valley” and will feature a panel of experts that includes Chris Kastner, owner and chef at CK’s Restaurant, Garth Callahan, owner of Energy Savers of Idaho, and Neil Bradshaw, president of the board of the Ketchum Community Development Committee. The program will focus on helping commercial and residential property owners get into building new and retrofitting with solar and how solar can help improve your bottom line. For more information or to RSVP, call 208 344-9161.
► The Sun Valley Sustainability Conference takes place from Oct. 23-25 in Sun Valley, Idaho. For the agenda, speakers, continuing education opportunities, sponsorship and other information, go to: http://www.sunvalleysustainability.org/
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will be taking public comments through Dec. 9 on Idaho Power’s request to implement its “advanced metering infrastructure” across its service territory through 2011. Idaho Power proposes to spend an estimated $70 million to deploy the new meters for its customers. The meters allow the utility to read from a remote location and also to inform customers about energy-saving opportunities in hopes of reducing energy consumption. For more information on Idaho Power’s request and the PUC’s order, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then to “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and then to IPC-E-08-16.
► The Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology will meet Nov. 18 and 19 in Boise. The agenda has not been set yet.