Idaho Energy Update
Jan. 14, 2011
Idaho’s electric utilities are turning up the pressure in their attempts to beat back a growing number of proposals for small wind projects seeking to tie into their systems. On the solar side, Idaho has just awarded grants to nine schools seeking to install small solar installations as part of a project to reduce power costs and boost the state’s solar industry. Meanwhile, the Snake River Alliance announced the appointment of Liz Woodruff as its new executive director. And the Idaho Legislature kicked off its 2011 session on Monday. For more on these and other developments, 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 Utilities Push Again to Stifle Wind Contract Approvals
Just as Idaho’s three major electric utilities are asking the Public Utilities Commission for a de facto moratorium on requirements to sign contracts for certain small-scale renewable energy projects, two of those utilities have submitted multiple contracts for wind projects while warning the PUC that approving the contracts could have dire consequences for Idaho’s electricity industry.
Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, submitted contracts for nearly 20 wind projects for which the utilities are bound to do business under the terms of the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. That law is designed to encourage development of renewable energy technologies as opposed to having utilities build new dirty power plants.
However, in early November, Idaho Power, Rocky Mountain Power and Avista Utilities all asked the PUC for emergency relief in their obligation to enter into such contracts. The utilities are claiming that so many wind projects are coming on to their systems – or will come on in the near future – that they may be unable to ensure the reliability and stability of their power grids and to ensure reasonable energy prices for their customers. That case is a long way from being resolved before the PUC, however, and in the meantime the utilities now want the PUC to consider rejecting new contracts. To do so, they want their obligation to buy power from renewable projects to be reduced from the current 10 megawatts (the size of a typical small utility wind farm) to 100kw, which is smaller than a single turbine. Such a move would essentially stop most new wind development indefinitely.
Since the PUC has yet to act on the larger case filed by the three utilities, Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power have adopted a strategy of salting their applications for contract approval for small wind projects with language that warns of major problems if they’re forced to do business with some of these small wind projects.
Rocky Mountain Power, which does business in southeast Idaho, submitted five contracts for less than 10 average megawatts each, which would qualify for state-approved guaranteed PURPA rates. But in its applications for the PUC to “accept or reject” the five contracts in Bingham County, the utility warns of “possible negative effects to both the utility and its customers of additional and unfettered PURPA … generation on system reliability, utility operations, and costs of incorporating and integrating such a large penetration level of PURPA wind .. .generation into the utility’s system.” Later in the application, the utility claims, “The magnitude of standard wind .. project development in Idaho has reached monumental levels” that could create problems for the utility. “Rocky Mountain Power is concerned with the impact on its electrical system and reliability in adding the Cedar Creek Wind projects and other large volumes of (small-scale) wind.”
Idaho Power also complained about having to sign contracts for tens of megawatts of new small wind projects. In bringing four wind project contracts in the Rogerson area to the PUC, Idaho Power warned about the “continuing and unchecked requirement” to bring such wind projects onto its system.
While the utilities object to having to bring large amounts of wind onto their systems, they have yet to provide the PUC with detailed testimony or other evidence showing how these projects might harm their systems. What is clear, however, is that Idaho’s utilities are taking a much harder line in dealing with wind contracts and in some cases trying to prevent them from being approved.
A similar situation gripped Idaho in 2005 and 2006, when Idaho Power’s bid for a moratorium on small wind projects led to a freeze of more than a year in wind development in the state.
To review the contracts referenced above, go to www.puc.state.id.us and then click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and you’ll notice the cases for the many wind projects referenced above. To review the docket in which Idaho’s three regulated electric utilities are asking to reduce the size of the renewable energy projects eligible for certain contracts, go to the same location and scroll to GNR-E-10-04.
II: State Awards $2.7 Million for Solar Projects in 9 Schools
The state Office of Energy Resources today announced the awards of $2.75 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (‘stimulus funds”) to nine Idaho schools that were among 43 applying for grants to install solar panels as part of Idaho’s Solar Panels for Schools Program.
The Office of Energy Resources (OER) began soliciting proposals for the solar program last August and received 43 requests seeking about $13 million. OER said the proposals were reviewed by an independent committee and the grants were spread across the six Idaho Department of Education’s regions. The projects range from 36 to 100 kilowatts, and the power they produce will help reduce the schools’ utility bills because the solar panels will be “net metered” with their utilities, meaning the power the panels generate offsets the total bills. OER said the wining schools “already had achieved a high level of energy efficiency, were situated and designed for easy adaption to a large solar electric system, had a relatively high expected return on the investment, and showed a strong commitment to the project.”
The winning schools: Sandpoint Charter High School; Genesee School (K-12); Highland High School in Craigmont; Canyon Owyhee School Service Agency in Wilder; Whitney Elementary in Boise; Carey High School; Shoshone High School; Harold B. Lee Elementary School in Dayton; and Madison High School in Rexburg.
For more information about the state’s energy programs funded by federal stimulus assistance, visit the Office of Energy Resources at www.energy.idaho.gov
III: Liz Woodruff is New Snake River Alliance Executive Director
Idaho Energy Update is delighted to report to those who haven’t heard the news that NW Energy Coalition member Snake River Alliance recently announced the appointment of Liz Woodruff as is new executive director. Join us in welcoming Liz ([email protected]) in her new position. Here’s the Alliance’s release:
After a robust national search and rigorous interview process, the Snake River Alliance Board of Directors has hired a new Executive Director. Liz Woodruff, who currently serves as the organization’s Energy Policy Analyst, will begin in her new capacity on Monday, Jan. 10.
“Our search for a new executive director ultimately brought us right back to the talent we already have at the Alliance,” said Lou Landry, president of the Snake River Alliance Board. “In her nearly three years working for the organization, Liz has shown exceptional leadership abilities, administrative strengths, a deep understanding of the issues, and a passion and commitment to the mission of the organization and Idaho’s environment and energy future.”
As one of the letters of recommendation associated with Liz’s application explained, “At a personal level, she connects with people on both ends of the political spectrum, making her a very effective communicator. Her history with the SRA and her knowledge of the subject matter, combined with all her talents, makes her the logical choice. There really cannot be a better person suited for this position.”
Woodruff is a fourth-generation Idahoan who was born and raised in Boise and graduated from Boise High School in 1996. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Whitman College and a Master’s degree from Rutgers University before returning to Idaho in 2005 to raise her two young children. She has worked in public policy in Idaho since 2008, when she served as a legislative assistant during the 2008 legislative session. Her work at the Alliance included extensive advocacy of clean energy policy with utilities, regulators, cities, counties, and the Legislature. She also successfully organized opposition to the recently defunct Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., nuclear reactor and the proposed Areva uranium enrichment factory in eastern Idaho.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to work in a leadership capacity for the Snake River Alliance—an organization with over 30 years of history protecting Idaho’s natural resources and quality of life.” Woodruff said. “We are at a critical juncture in this state and the nation, where we have the opportunity to promote policies that advance renewable energy and energy efficiency to create jobs and energy security in Idaho. The Alliance and its members are at the forefront of this effort, and I am excited to continue to evolve this important work.”
In addition to serving as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog, over the last several years the Alliance has developed a substantial clean energy program. Current issues being addressed by the organization include the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency with local and state government entities and utilities; a campaign to stop the licensing of the proposed Areva uranium enrichment factory and the legacy of radioactive waste it would leave above the Snake River aquifer; monitoring state action regarding the importation of irradiated spent fuel into Idaho; and continuing efforts to clean-up radioactive waste at INL.
The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy resources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.
On The Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Jan. 19, 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.
► Idaho Power’s Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Committee (IRPAC) holds its next meeting Jan. 20 at the company’s Boise headquarters. Idaho Power’s IRPAC is convened every other year to advise the company as it plans for how it will meet its future energy needs. The meetings are open to the public, but as of now the start time on Thursday isn’t known – though it’s generally 10 a.m. For more information about the IRP process, visit: http://www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/PlanningForFuture/irp/2011/
► The Idaho Solar Working Group meets at 9 a.m. Jan. 27 at the Joe R. Williams Building (“Hall of Mirrors”) at 700 W. State Street in Boise. The meeting will be in the first floor east conference room. The Idaho Wind Working Group meets the following day, Jan. 28, at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel in Boise.
IN THE LEGISLATURE: Session Under Way; Few Big Energy Bills Expected
The Idaho Legislature opened its 2011 session Monday with a nearly energy-free state of the state address by Gov. Butch Otter. The governor did not propose any energy initiatives for the Legislature to consider, although it’s likely a number of energy bills will surface in the coming weeks. Among one of the Legislature’s big tasks will be extending the successful sales tax rebate program for wind energy developers. That incentive, which has helped propel the wind industry in Idaho for the past five years, will expire this year unless the Legislature acts to renew it.
Each week, we’ll post thumbnail summaries on where the bills stand. Text of bills can be found by going to the Legislature’s main site at www.legislature.idaho.gov and clicking the “Bill Center” link and then “Legislation By Subject” and scrolling to the categories in which you’re interested in. Such as “Energy,” “Environment” or “Utilities.” You then click the link to the bill for more information. The Energy section will eventually look something like this:
Renewable energy projects, expedite permits S1273
As bills come in, we’ll provide summaries of the bills that include their sponsors, current status, and what they’re designed to accomplish.