Idaho Energy Update
July 26, 2011
Solar was in the news the past couple of weeks, with Idaho Power and partner Interconnect Solar Development submitting a contract to state regulators for what may become Idaho’s first utility-scale solar project. Meanwhile, a north Idaho company nailed down a second contract from the federal government as it pushes ahead on its dream to integrate solar panels into the nation’s roadways, parking lots, and other surfaces. Also, the PUC is beginning work on two large rate cases filed by Idaho Power and Avista Utilities, while Idaho Power’s latest “integrated resource plan” – its roadmap to meet future energy needs – has been filed with the PUC and will soon be open to public comment. For more information on these developments and coming events, read on. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Comments Sought As Developer, Idaho Power Submit Solar Farm to PUC for Approval
Boise-based Interconnect Solar Development and Idaho Power have submitted a contract that calls on Idaho Power to purchase Interconnect’s energy in a novel pricing arrangement for the next 25 years.
If approved by the PUC, this would be Idaho Power’s second contract with a solar developer. The state’s largest electric utility signed a deal last year with Grand View Solar PV One and its 20-megawatt solar field that is planned for 180 acres near the Simplot Grand View Land and Livestock Group headquarters, about 16 miles from Mountain Home Air Force Base. If built, that Elmore County project could produce enough energy to power 6,000 homes, depending on the time of year.
Interconnect’s Murphy Flats solar project, planned for 125 acres in Owyhee County near Murphy, would also produce up to 20MW for Idaho Power. Interconnect’s contract with Idaho Power anticipates a July 2012 date for delivery of its first energy to the utility. Owyhee County officials approved Interconnect’s project late last year.
In a news release, the PUC said it will take public comments on the Interconnect-Idaho Power application through Aug. 4. The PUC said this project qualifies under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), which requires electric utilities to buy power from certain small energy producers based on rates tied to what the utility would have paid if it produced the power itself or bought it from someone else. The PUC is currently reviewing how Idaho treats wind and solar projects under PURPA after all three electric utilities complained they are unsure of the impacts large volumes of this energy might have on their systems. However, no Idaho utilities have utility-scale solar power on their systems, and only two of the three have Idaho wind contracts. It’s unclear yet how the pending PUC cases on renewable energy might impact this project.
The PUC said the new contract calls for Idaho Power to pay different rates for Interconnect’s solar energy. The solar company would receive more for energy produced during summertime heavy demand times, and less during times when the utility doesn’t need the energy.
To review the contract and related materials, go to the PUC’s website at www.puc.idaho.gov and click on “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll down to IPC-E-11-10. You can also submit comments through the Aug. 4 deadline by going to the same website and clicking on “Comments and Questions About a Rate Case.” Comments can also be mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074 or faxed to (208) 334-3762.
In a related development, Interconnect and energy giant Siemens Industry have signed a contract for Siemens to equip Interconnect’s Murphy Flats project. Siemens will provide the solar panels, inverters, transformers, and other equipment req2uired by the project. That equipment will be manufactured in Chicago. The “multi-million dollar” amount of the contract was not disclosed.
II: In North Idaho, Solar Entrepreneur Wins Big Contract
In a related item, Sagle-based Solar Roadways, Inc., in northern Idaho has been awarded a $750,000 contract by the Federal Highway Administration for the second phase of its Small Business Innovative Research contract for a project that could integrate solar energy as the nation’s crumbling roadways are repaired.
“This will give us the funding needed to continue our research and development for a project that may very well become the New Deal of the 21st Century, said Scott Brusaw, who with his wife Julie created the Solar Roadways project and founded the company. The company’s technology, still under development, would build “Solar Roadways” from structurally engineered solar panels that are driven upon as part of the road itself. The Solar Road Panels contain LED lights to illuminate road lines from under the surface, as well as a heating element to prevent snow or ice accumulation in cold weather. Phase II of the project, just funded by the FHA, will focus on using the technologies for parking lots, driveways and other surfaces. The prototype solar parking lot is designed to lay the groundwork for eventually installing the panels into roadways.
Brusaw said the electricity generated by the solar panels could be fed into the electric grid, with the revenues offsetting the cost of the road or other project construction.
“It’s a perfect time to do this, because our highway infrastructure is falling apart and our power infrastructure is falling apart,” Brusaw told the Associated Press. “Both of them need to be rebuilt. This is a project that combines those two.”
For more information about Solar Roadways, go to www.solarroadways.com
III: PUC Begins Work on Idaho Power, Avista Rate Case
The Public Utilities Commission has begun its lengthy review of a complex rate case filed by Idaho Power, which is seeking an increase in customer rates of an average of 10 percent. The PUC is also processing a rate case filed by Avista Utilities, which serves parts of northern Idaho.
In the Idaho Power case, the company says its rate hike is largely due to growing demand for electricity, infrastructure needs such as repairing or replacing transmission and other facilities, and requirements to make the utility’s system more reliable. Idaho Power also says it has made or will have to make huge investments of customer dollars for pollution control and other equipment at the coal-fired generation plants in which it participates in Wyoming and Nevada. It also has added new transmission and distribution lines and plans more in the future.
Idaho Power’s residential customers could see an 8.8 percent increase if the PUC grants its application. Residential and small business customers will also be asked to pay another $1 a month for their service charge, bringing the charge to $5. Idaho Power also wants to change the way it pays for some of its conservation incentive payments, and it wants to make permanent a “pilot” program designed to remove existing disincentives for it to invest in energy efficiency programs.
The public will soon have opportunities to provide their comments in the case through public workshops, hearings, and also by providing written comments directly to the PUC. To review Idaho Power’s filings and related documents, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “File Room” and “Electric Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-11-08.
In the rate case by Spokane-based Avista, the company is seeking an average 3.7 percent increase for its electric customers and 2.7 percent for its gas customers. According to the PUC, a typical electric customer would see a bill increase from $83.81 a month to $86.87. The average gas bill would rise from $60.76 to $62.91. That’s on top of additional electric and gas rate hikes that will take place this October as the second part of a three-part overall rate hike in Avista’s 2010 rate case. That case saw much larger rate hikes that were spread over three years to reduce their impacts.
To review Avista’s rate case filing and related documents, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click on “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to AVU-E-11-01 for the electric case and AVU-G-11-01 for the gas case.
IV: Idaho Power Files New Roadmap to Meet Future Demands
Idaho Power has filed with the Public Utilities Commission its “2011 Integrated Resource Plan,” which all Idaho electric utilities file every other year and which is designed to show how the utility will meet its anticipated future growth in electricity demand over the next 20 years.
The PUC will soon announce how the public can comment on Idaho Power’s plan, which the Commission does not formally “approve” but rather accepts as a roadmap for how the company will meet future requirements. Meantime, Idaho Power will announce open houses of its own around its southern Idaho service territory to allow customers to give their feedback. Those events will be held in several weeks and have not yet been scheduled by the company.
Idaho Power projects its average energy needs will increase about 1.4 percent a year over the planning period, while its “peak” or maximum power needs will increase about 1.8 percent annually over the same time. That means the company’s maximum power needs – those that usually occur in the summer when irrigators are running their pumps more and residents are relying more on their air-conditioners – are outstripping the company’s average energy needs. Because utilities must have resources or access to resources to meet their highest demands (with a reserve to boot), they must plan for their maximum loads. That makes it more important to reduce those electricity “peaks” as much as possible to avoid the need for expensive generating plants needed only to meet demand during those times of the year when it’s highest.
For Idaho Power’s first 10-year planning period, which is most important because it covers the times it expects to add resources in the near term, the company plans to rely heavily on its proposed Boardman to Hemingway transmission line from Canyon County to the Boardman area on the Columbia River. That transmission line is designed to augment existing lines that are often at capacity at times when Idaho Power can ship excess power to the Pacific Northwest when it has excess power, and vice-versa when it is short on electricity. Idaho Power will also rely on its new Langley Gulch gas-fired power plant, expected to be operating near New Plymouth next year, to meet additional demands.
The company’s second 10-year planning period might include solar, geothermal, small hydro resources, as well as new gas generators. But given that the plan is updated every two years, resources included in the second 10-year period tend to be somewhat speculative.
To review the IRP and its related documents, go to http://www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/PlanningForFuture/irp/2011/default.cfm
On The Agenda:
► The 2011 Western Energy Policy Research Conference, sponsored by the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and the Energy Policy Institute, is scheduled for Aug. 25-26 at the Grove Hotel in Boise. For more information and registration, go to http://epi.boisestate.edu/conference/welcome.aspx
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Aug. 1, 8, and 15. 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.