Idaho Energy Update
Oct. 7, 2010
Developers of a planned nuclear reactor in Payette County had a tough week, with two investor-oriented news organizations raising questions about the company’s ability to pull off its plan. Meanwhile, Owyhee County’s first big wind project was presented to the county’s planning commission with strong support from county residents, many of whom are farming and ranching the 5,000 acres where the turbines would be sited. At the PUC, the Commission approved the first solar contract with Idaho Power as well as a proposal by Intermountain Gas to reduce rates due to reduce gas prices and demand. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
I: Payette Nuke Developer Takes Hits from Investment Reporters
It was a tough week for the would-be developer of a nuclear reactor in Payette County, as a Wall Street watchdog media group and a Vancouver-based investors bulletin raised new questions about the ability of Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI) to pull off its reactor plans – financially and otherwise.
AEHI has been in Idaho for more than three years in search of a spot for its proposed reactor and to date has little to show for its efforts after leaving two counties only to pick a third where water and transmission loom as hurdles as formidable as the company’s flagging finances.
The first shoe dropped on Monday, when the investment watch dog Street Sweeper (http://thestreetsweeper.org/undersurveillance.html?i=1184) issued a lengthy report questioning AEHI’s ability to build a reactor.
The report quotes a county commissioner at AEHI’s first site as saying, “They have no money; they have no plans…” It continues, “Since then, records show, AEHI has announced funding deals with at least three obscure financial firms – including one whose leader would later be charged with alleged securities fraud – but still lacks the money required for even the equivalent of a down payment on a nuclear power plant.”
The story also quotes a former Oklahoma securities commissioner who earlier worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as saying, “I would absolutely look into this … I would be shocked if Idaho regulators haven’t done that already.” An official at Idaho’s Department of Finance confirmed it had received complaints about AEHI, but was otherwise mum on any investigation.
Meanwhile, Stockhouse Report (http://www.stockhouse.com/Community-News/2010/Oct/7/Stockhouse-Short-Report–U-S–junior-in-$10B-nucle) weighed in today, picking up on the Street Sweeper report and even quoting the head of the Payette County Planning & Zoning Department as questioning the viability of the project and nuclear power in general.
“I don’t know if (the project) makes economic sense because our area has the lowest power costs in the country,” the story quoted Don Dressen from Payette County’s P&Z as saying. “I don’t think nuclear power can compete.”
The story then quoted John Quirk of Crescendo Communications, described as a New York-based investor relations company retained by AEHI: “We definitely agree that there is risk here,” Quirk was quoted as saying. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever done this before.”
AEHI currently has a rezoning request pending before Payette County, which is in the process of conducting a series of technical review meetings. The company has yet to come to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission with its proposal, nor has it announced what kind of reactor it hopes to purchase.
II: 60MW Wind Farm Planned in Owyhee County
Owyhee County was the first county in Idaho to write an energy plan, but until now it has not landed a significant renewable energy project. That may change soon if the county signs off on what would be one of Idaho’s largest wind farms.
The Owyhee County Planning & Zoning Commission held a day-long hearing Oct. 6 on an application by American Wind Group to build a 60 megawatt community wind farm near Murphy. The project would consist of three eight-turbine wind turbine arrays located about one mile apart from each other on parts of 5,000 acres of existing agricultural land. American Wind also plans to build a research center on the site to attract wind researchers, educators, scientists, students and others to advance wind research such as wind forecasting, wildlife impact, energy storage technologies, and integrating wind power into existing power grids.
The project site is mostly east of Highway 78 about five miles southeast of Murphy and 27 miles south of Nampa. It’s adjacent to the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, which means developers will need to consult state and federal wildlife biologists to address concerns about possible plant and wildlife impacts from the huge towers and blades. The site is also less than 10 miles southwest of Idaho Power’s Swan Falls hydroelectric project on the Snake River.
If built, the project would cost an estimated $120 million and would generate about $9 million in revenues for Owyhee County over 20 years, or between $300,000 and $500,000 a year. That compares to the county’s total budget of about $7.3 million.
What’s unusual about American Wind’s project is that the turbine arrays would be situated on the perimeter of existing irrigation pivots, or crop circles, as well as parcels where pivots might be built in the future. American Wind principal Brian Jackson of Renaissance Engineering & Design said the project will be built in such a way as to not interfere with existing farm and ranch operations. While each of the three wind farms would have a generating capacity of about 20MW, they will actually generate an estimated 10 average megawatts of power that will in turn be sold to Idaho Power under three separate 20-year contracts.
One area that will require further work between American Wind Group and Owyhee County is the condition of the rural roads in and around the wind farm area. County officials agreed some of them are poor shape and that the county lacks the means for significant upgrades. Jackson said the company plans major road improvements once the precise turbine sites are determined and the roads to them are set. That’s a good thing, because the blades alone for the 263-foot towers are 100 feet long and a challenge to maneuver even on good roads. In addition, the “nacelles” or the bus-sized modules that hold the blade hubs and house the generators, weigh 100 tons. And the super-sized cranes needed to erect the turbines are 40 feet wide.
III: PUC OK’s Solar Contract with Idaho Power
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has approved a contract between Idaho Power and Grand View Solar PV One for the purchase of 10 average megawatts from Grand View’s 20MW solar farm being built 16 miles west of Mountain Home. This is Idaho’s first utility-scale solar project to be approved by the PUC.
The 20-year sales agreement, scheduled for power production beginning this Jan. 1, allows for the price of the electricity from the solar farm to gradually increase over the life of the contract. It also allows for varying rates of power output, with less in the winter months and more in the summer.
To review the PUC’s order, the contract, or other information in this case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and click “File Room” and then “Electric Cases” and then scroll to IPC-E-10-19.
IV: Lower Intermountain Gas Demand, Prices, Mean Bill Reductions
A combination of lower natural gas prices, reduced demand, and plenty of storage means Intermountain Gas customers will see a small decrease in their gas bills. The Public Utilities Commission approved an annual “Purchased Gas Adjustment” (PGA) for Intermountain Gas that reflects changes in the prices and sales of the utility’s commodity.
The decrease amounts to about $2.2 million, which translates to a rate cut of about 1.6 percent or 90 cents a month for those customers who use natural gas for water and space heating, according to the PUC. The increase is much smaller – less than a dime a month – for customers who use gas for space heating only.
To review the PUC’s order, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then to “File Room” and then “Gas Cases” and then to INT-G-10-3.
On The Agenda:
► The Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Oct. 13, 18, and 25. 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.