Idaho Energy Update
May 3, 2011
In a move that’s leaving Idaho energy-watchers scratching their heads, Idaho Power has pulled out the stops with a pricey ad campaign to try to further slow down wind energy development in Idaho. The ads paint the utility as one of the nation’s greenest – a claim quickly refuted in another ad by the region’s independent power producers. In other Idaho Power news, long-time regulatory affairs chief and more recently the company’s sustainability czar Ric Gale announced his retirement from the company. And in nuke news, the Pueblo County Commission in Colorado has denied a request for a reactor project – one that once involved the company that has been shopping reactors around Idaho for the past four years. And THAT company, Eagle-based AEHI, has a June 6 date before the Payette County Commission for its project, as well as an October 2012 date in U.S. District Court to answer to federal securities fraud charges. For more information on these 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 Power Amps it Up in Fight against Wind
Anyone wondering whether Idaho Power’s unusually aggressive tactics against renewable energy in the 2011 Idaho Legislature ended along with the Legislature’s vote to kill the state sales tax incentive for renewables can stop wondering. The state’s largest electric utility is cranking it up again – this time in a series of big, colorful newspaper advertisements boasting of its green credentials and lamenting the utility-bill-busting impacts of wind energy.
Idaho Power was a key player in efforts to prevent the renewal of Idaho’s renewable energy development sales tax rebate, which is credited with awakening a moribund renewable energy business in the state. The company’s main complaint was about the amount of wind coming onto its system, which has been considerable of late. But by the time the Legislature got through with things, the sales tax rebate for all renewables had been killed. The Legislature’s unusual action came despite the fact the Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of examining key renewables issues confronting utilities, and as the Legislature itself prepares for its mandated five-year review of the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan, which is the state’s primary energy policy roadmap.
Enter Idaho Power’s ad campaign, which rather than tout the company’s laudable gains in energy efficiency, trains both barrels on wind power. In one ad, Idaho Power says: “Today, about half of the energy in our portfolio is generated from hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal.” However, that includes Idaho Power’s huge hydro complex, which accounts for most of the renewables the company claims. According to Idaho Power’s 2010 Resource Portfolio Fuel Mix (http://www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/CompanyInformation/Facts/resourcePortfolio_2010.cfm)
48.8 percent of the utility’s power came from hydro, with 3.1 percent from wind, .5 percent biomass and .5 percent waste generation. Solar and geothermal were not on the list, as they contribute even smaller amounts of power to the utility.
Another Idaho Power ad that’s raising eyebrows says, in part: “Based on a huge and recent spike in wind energy development in Idaho and, based on government-set rates for the purchase of wind energy, Idaho Power customers could pay more than half a billion dollars over the next 20 years over and above what they would pay using other existing energy resources.”
Left unsaid is what those other “existing energy resources” are, but presumably they would include coal-fired generation, which brings monumental environmental and future cost risks to the table as a future energy resource. The half-a-billion dollars number is also noteworthy, as it’s in the ballpark of what utility customers can expect to pay in the future simply to relicense the Hells Canyon hydropower complex and the environmental mitigation required in order to comply with clean water and endangered species laws, among other things.
Also according to one of the Idaho Power ads: “Integrating all of this variable capacity (renewable energy) also undermines the time-tested, science- and technology-driven, 20-year look-forward plan that is required of all utilities. And that just isn’t right.” That’s a reference to the “Integrated Resource Plans” that all regulated utilities must prepare every two years to show how they will meet their future electricity load. Most utilities in this region do the same thing, so far without the dire consequences predicted in these ads.
That apparently was too much for the Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition (NIPPC, www.nippc.org), which fired back with a half-page ad of its own on the front of the Idaho Statesman’s Sunday opinion section. Headlined “The True Costs of Wind Power,” the ad warns: “Don’t take your utility’s word for it. Don’t be fooled by full-color advertisements, cute web sites or smiley-faced bill stuffers.” NIPPC challenges Idaho Power’s math, pointing out that the Idaho PUC set Idaho wind prices at 7 cents per kilowatt, compared to the 12-cent-per-kilowatt price for the new gas plant Idaho Power is building near New Plymouth. “And,” NIPPC said, “if the utility bought electricity from ‘other existing energy resources’ rather than generating it itself, consumers would save three quarters of a billion dollars over the next 20 years.”
The company’s ads also refer readers to the company’s four-year-old spinoff website, www.getpluggedin.com, where, “Together we can get wind back on a responsible track.” That site is salted with blog entries from some of the very same wind opponents who testified against wind energy in the last Legislature. Its news section features a news story about last week’s catastrophic tornadoes in the South and Midwest, a headline proclaiming “Clean Energy Source Shows Dark Side in U.S. Tornadoes” and a story that begins: “The deadly tornadoes that tore across the South last week highlighted the cruel and ruthless side of wind, an energy source championed as an earth-friendly alternative to fossil fuels.”
II: Idaho Power’s Ric Gale Retires as Utility’s First ‘Sustainability’ Exec
Idaho utility-watchers have long known John “Ric” Gale as Idaho Power’s veteran chief of regulatory affairs who oversaw dozens of grueling rate cases and other regulatory matters. More recently, Gale had been settling into a newly created position as Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, until he and the company announced his retirement, which is effective June 30.
Gale earned the respect of many in the clean energy business for his work to steer Idaho Power toward cleaner energy resources and other policies that promoted energy efficiency and conservation. Idaho Power created its Corporate Responsibility shop last year to coordinate the company’s sustainability initiatives. That occurred a year after IDACORP shareholders surprised the company and its management by approving a nonbinding resolution directing the company to develop a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Idaho Power said Gale will be replaced by Lisa Grow, currently Senior Vice President of Power Supply.
III: Colorado Nixes Nuke Plant Idea; Would-Be Payette Nuke Developer Gets a June 6 Payette Commission Date
In one of the most-watched nuclear reactor construction projects in the nation, the Pueblo County Commission in Colorado last week voted 3-0 to reject a proposed nuclear power “clean energy park” that at one time involved would-be Idaho nuke developer Don Gillispie and his troubled startup, Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc.
Gillispie claimed he was involved in the Colorado project as a possible developer of a nuclear reactor, although once he and his company were charged with federal securities fraud in Idaho the Colorado developer immediately sought to distance himself from AEHI.
In Colorado, developer Don Banner lost a bid to use about 24,000 acres near Pueblo for an “energy park” that he said would include a reactor. County Commissioners said they couldn’t see how the area could provide enough water for a nuclear plant, and even then said they were unsure about the developer’s ability to execute the project.
“This is a victory for our environment and the health of future generations,” Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter nuclear and toxics specialist Joan Seeman told the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper. “Thank goodness Pueblo’s civic leaders decided against expensive, dirty nuclear energy in our back yard. Pueblo has cheaper, cleaner energy sources available that can grow the local economy with good, green jobs and a broadened tax base.”
So the nuclear reactor watch turns to Payette County, Idaho, where AEHI is pinning its long-shot hopes on a June 6 County Commission hearing to discuss AEHI’s rezoning request for a reactor project. Eagle-based AEHI faces an October 2012 U.S. District Court trial in a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit over alleged fraud and stock price manipulation charges, as well as a class-action lawsuit from investors claiming they were bilked by the company.
AEHI has lost nearly $20 million since it began shopping its reactor scheme around southern Idaho four years ago. The company tried unsuccessfully to sell its nuclear idea to Owyhee and then Elmore Counties, and after being rejected there is now trying to restart its rezoning application in Payette County amid the still-pending SEC fraud case.
Even if AEHI were to get the green light in Payette County, the company has reported to the SEC that it does not have the finances to so much as file an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license, let alone buy the property in Idaho. The company also told the SEC it plans to use a South Korean Generation 3 light water reactor for its project, although the manufacturer has not submitted that plant to the NRC for certification – a process that will take years. AEHI has identified various reactor designs during its tour of southern Idaho.
On The Agenda:
► The NW Energy Coalition’s Spring Conference and Board meeting will be held in Boise this year and runs May 13-14. For more information, including registration information and the agenda, go to http://www.nwenergy.org/get-involved/2011-spring-conference/
►The Idaho Green Expo, a celebration of all things green – including energy! – runs May 14 and 15 in Boise. For more information, go to www.idahogreenexpo.org
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on May 9, 16, 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.