Idaho Energy Update
May 17, 2011
Responding to inquiries from Idahoans wanting a greater voice in how their utilities operate and where they get their power, the Snake River Alliance has released “Idaho’s Clean Energy Future,” a free booklet available for download that walks readers through the world of Idaho’s electricity industry. Meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission says it’s not turning a deaf ear to Idaho Power’s request for changes in the way it treats some of its growing energy conservation programs. And the PUC has also received the every-other-year energy resource plan from Rocky Mountain Power, and will soon set a comment period so the public can weigh in. 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: Snake River Alliance Releases Guide to Idaho’s Clean Energy Future
Ask most Idahoans where their electricity comes from, and they’ll tell you most of it comes from the hydropower generated by the string of dams along the Snake River and its tributaries. While it’s true that Idaho relies on hydropower for a bit less than half its electricity, one of our dirty little secrets is that the bulk of the rest comes from coal plants in surrounding states. Idaho may not be home to a utility-scale coal-fired power plant, but that doesn’t mean its utility customers aren’t responsible for huge amounts of pollution that are steadily changing the way our planet functions.
As Idahoans learn more about where their power comes from and how energy choices affect the environment and climate, more of them want to see their utilities replacing dirty, conventional generation resources like coal-fired power plants with cleaner energy like wind, solar and geothermal. Trouble is, many big energy decisions are made in ways that are tough to understand and even tougher to participate in.
The Snake River Alliance has produced “Idaho’s Clean Energy Future – An Activist’s Guide to a Sustainable Energy Future.” The Alliance’s People’s Energy Project is designed to help plug Idahoans into the world where energy decisions are made, from electric utilities to the state Public Utilities Commission that oversees investor-owned utilities.
You can check it out and download it for free at www.snakeriveralliance.org.
II: PUC Clarifies Order in Idaho Power Energy Efficiency Case
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has issued an order clarifying a previous order in which the PUC rejected a settlement agreement between the utility and stakeholder groups over the way it treats incentive payments for energy-saving measures. The PUC still says the key elements in Idaho Power’s request are best handled in a general rate case rather than the separate application filed by the company. However, regulators said they wanted to make it clear that they support Idaho Power’s energy conservation programs – even if the company is currently spending more on those programs than it’s collecting from customers to pay for all of them.
Idaho Power filed an application last October asking for PUC approval to change some of the way it pays for incentives for energy-saving programs. The company is particularly concerned about a growing negative balance of about $17 million in its “energy efficiency rider account,” which is funded by on-bill charges and which pays for much of Idaho Power’s efficiency programs for residential, industrial, commercial, and irrigation customers.
The company sought to change the way it pays for some “demand response” payments to customers who agree to have their power curtailed for limited times to deal with heavy summertime “peak” power needs. Examples of those payments are Idaho Power’s “Cool Credit” air-conditioning program that pays residential customers $7 a month in the summer if they allow the company to cycle down their air-conditioners at certain times. Irrigators have a similar program for their pumps. In addition, Idaho Power sought changes in how regulators treat its Custom Efficiency program incentive costs for accounting purposes.
Idaho Power and some stakeholder groups, including the Snake River Alliance, Idaho Conservation League, and NW Energy Coalition and the Community Action Partnerships Association of Idaho, reached a stipulation to settle the case, since those groups mostly supported Idaho Power’s request. The Industrial Customers of Idaho Power opposed the agreement on grounds it amounted to a rate increase. The PUC rejected the settlement in April.
“The Commission recognized and stated its appreciation for Idaho Power’s commitment to improve its (energy efficiency) programs, including programs that provide direct incentives to customers to use energy efficiently and wisely,” the PUC said in an order issued today. Commissioners also said that “the Company should not regard the Commission’s order as reflecting in any way a desire to scale back on cost-effective conservation programs.
While Idaho Power has not said whether it will file a general rate case this year, it is expected to do so as soon as June. That case would then become the vehicle for the PUC to review the way the company handles its energy conservation incentive payments and programs.
To review the PUC’s order and other documents in the case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click on “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-10-27.
III: PUC to Open Comment Period for Rocky Mountain Power’s Resource Plan
PacifiCorp, which does business in parts of eastern Idaho as Rocky Mountain Power, has submitted its every-other-year “integrated resource plan” to the Public Utilities Commission, which will soon set the dates for public comment on the plan.
Idaho’s regulated electric utilities file their respective “IRPs” roughly every 24 months. The plans, which do not bind utilities to specific generation resource plans, nonetheless serve as roadmaps for how the utilities will meet their future energy needs for the next two decades. Idaho Power is nearing the completion of its 2011 IRP and will submit it to the PUC in the coming few months.
In the case of Rocky Mountain Power, the Utah-based utility first identifies how much its electricity demands will grow in the future – and then how it plans to meet that new load. For instance, it plans to acquire 800 megawatts (MW) of new wind resources between now and 2020; another 100MW of geothermal resources; 30MW of solar hot water hearing resources by 2020; and up to 52MW of combined heat and power (CHP). It also plans to acquire a new gas plant in Utah in 2014. In addition, the company has outlined plans to acquire significant amounts of new energy efficiency measures and “demand-response” measures that allow it to curtail irrigation and residential customer use at certain times in a move that helps reduce the need for expensive new “peaking” plants to handle short periods of extraordinary power consumption.
The Public Utilities Commission will decide soon whether to accept its staff’s recommendation to set a 60-day public comment period on the Rocky Mountain Plan. When it does, we’ll report here on that decision and how to comment.
To review Rocky Mountain Power’s IRP and related documents, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then click on “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and scroll to PAC-E-11-10.
On The Agenda:
► Power Up Your Bottom Line With Energy Efficiency, part of the Green Acceleration Series from the Idaho Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in collaboration with Green Works Idaho, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 25 at the Boise Watercooler at 1405 West Idaho Street. Registration for the classes is $14 for the general public and $7 for Green Works Idaho members. Lunch is included. For more information, go to www.boisegreenhouse.com/upgrading-training-and-events/
►The 2011 Idaho Energy and Green Building Conference, sponsored by the Idaho Office of Energy Resources and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, is scheduled for Oct. 19-21 at the Double Tree Riverside Hotel in Garden City. For more information and registration, go to www.idahocities.org/energyconference.
► 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 May 31 and June 6 and 20. 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.