Ready to give your electric utility a piece of your mind? Idahoans will soon have a chance to weigh in on how our electric utilities do business, now that two of Idaho’s three big utilities have filed their requests for rate hikes with the Public Utilities Commission. The third utility may file its request for rate increases in the near future, so for clean energy advocates, the game is on.
Idaho Power, which serves most of southern Idaho, and Rocky Mountain Power, which serves the southeast part of the state, filed their “general rate case” applications with the Public Utilities Commissions (PUC) in the past month. Avista Utilities, which serves parts of northern Idaho, has not yet filed its case but may do so soon.
Rate cases are the way utilities seek to recover the costs of serving their customers, but there’s more to these cases than it first seems. They also provide us as utility customers a way to express concerns we might have about how our utilities operate, or whether we think the utilities are doing enough to provide not only affordable but also clean energy to us as customers. Among the issues that might be addressed in these important cases in the coming months are whether the utilities are doing enough to reduce their dependence on coal plants, increase their renewable energy use, whether their energy efficiency programs are adequate, and how our rates are structured in ways that can promote energy conservation. In other words, more than just saying we want our rates kept as low as possible, we can use these cases to tell our utilities that we want them to be as clean as possible.
The PUC (http://www.puc.state.id.us/) will accept comments on the applications at any time, and you can weigh in by going to the PUC’s site and then clicking the “Comments and Questions About a Case” link. You can also review the applications and supporting testimony and other materials at the links below. Whether you comment now or in the coming months, your comments will be reviewed by PUC commissioners and staff, so we urge you to let the PUC know your views on these cases. If you have questions or concerns, let us know ([email protected]).
In the case of Idaho Power (http://www.puc.idaho.gov/internet/cases/summary/IPCE1108.html), Idaho’s largest electric utility is seeking an increase in its base rates of about $83 million, or a 9.9 percent overall average rate increase, and an 8.8 percent increase for residential customers. That’s a hefty increase and one that Idaho Power will be hard-pressed to defend, but there are other parts of its rate case that we can get behind. For instance, Idaho Power is asking the PUC to allow changes in its pricing structure that will help promote energy savings by discouraging heavy power consumption during peak times. It’s also seeking permission to recover some energy-reduction costs, like those some of us agree to be paid when we agree to have our air-conditioners shut off during certain times, by charging those costs to customers through the rates we all pay. This seems like good policy as it promotes more energy-saving measures than the company can currently afford and will actually maximize energy savings when we most need them. Good for Idaho Power. The company is also asking that a “decoupling” mechanism that promotes energy efficiency programs be moved from a pilot program to a permanent rate mechanism, and that’s also a great idea. It will help ensure that future energy saving measures are not starved for funding simply because they are successful. Increasingly, Idaho Power seems to be getting the energy efficiency part of its mission.
Despite the progressive rate-related parts in Idaho Power’s rate case, however, we remain very concerned about the company’s failure to address its ongoing carbon addiction. Keep in mind that Idaho Power relies on coal-fired generation for nearly half of its power. That must change, and efforts by the company to use our ratepayer dollars to try to “clean up” its coal plants in Wyoming and Nevada should be resisted. We should instead demand that Idaho Power turn to clean energy resources. It’s just not good energy policy for Idaho Power to use our ratepayer dollars to pay for short-sighted “improvements” to dirty coal plants that should be slated for early retirement because their power can be replaced by energy efficiency and renewable energy.
In the case of Rocky Mountain Power (http://www.puc.idaho.gov/internet/cases/summary/PACE1112.html), we have bigger concerns, especially with the utility’s failure to get serious about cutting down on its coal-plant operations. This is a utility that, like Idaho Power, seems hopelessly enchanted by the wonders of coal-fired power generation. We are looking at the investment of hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars just to keep the company’s aging and environmentally derelict coal fleet operating, when the prudent decision is to begin planning for its early retirement.
Rocky Mountain Power is seeking an average customer rate increase of 15 percent, or 7.2 percent for residential customers. According to the PUC, more than half of Rocky Mountain Power’s $32.7 million rate increase is due to increases in power supply costs, including increased coal costs. Thirty-one percent of the requested increase is due to capital additions, including investment in transmission, pollution control equipment, and hydro generation plants. Not a whole lot there for clean energy improvements.
As utility customers, we’ll all have plenty of opportunities to tell our power companies to clean up their acts in the coming months and we at the Alliance will continue to let you know when the best opportunities arise.
For now, however, feel free to let the PUC and your own utilities know how you feel about whether you want a business-as-usual coal-fired power generation future, or whether you want to see your utility and Idaho head toward a cleaner, more affordable, and more sustainable electric utility future.