The Idaho Public Utilities Commission wants to know whether Idaho Power is softening its energy efficiency commitments and whether the state’s largest electric utility is still as dedicated as it has been in the past to help customers conserve energy.
The Idaho PUC requires Idaho electric utilities to deploy “all cost effective” energy-saving measures, and in exchange, the utilities are allowed to recover their costs for those measures through a surcharge on customer bills. Each year, utilities apply to the PUC to show those expenditures are “prudently incurred,” meaning they passed a cost-benefit test, and rare is the occasion when those costs are not ruled prudent. Idaho Power filed its application to recover its 2012 costs in April 2013, and after a lengthy review, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission granted most of its request to recover its 2012 energy efficiency costs from its customers. But in its decision, the PUC raised some fundamental questions about whether Idaho Power is softening its energy efficiency commitments and whether the state’s largest electric utility is still as dedicated as it has been in the past to help its customers conserve energy.
Some background: The energy-saving measures just reviewed are known as “demand-side management” (DSM) initiatives, meaning they are programs available to customers on their side of their electricity meter. “Demand-side” programs are designed to save energy, as opposed to “supply-side” energy delivery resources such as new power plants or transmission lines. In 2012, Idaho Power’s DSM programs cost about $46 million.
Idaho Power convenes an “Energy Efficiency Advisory Group” (EEAG) to counsel the utility on how to best implement its energy conservation programs. In the current case, stakeholders questioned whether the EEAG was adequately informed about Idaho Power decisions to cut back on its funding commitments to state and regional energy efficiency initiatives. Those include Idaho Power’s decision to withdraw its annual contributions to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) program to achieve region-wide energy savings, and also Idaho Power’s funding of the Idaho Center for Advanced Energy Studies Energy Efficiency Research Institute (CEERI), which Idaho Power once touted as a leading energy efficiency research initiative by Idaho’s universities, utilities and the Idaho National Laboratory. Idaho Power wants to pull the plug on the CEERI program after it was unable to control the publication rights to CEERI documents, something few if any universities would agree to on grounds of academic integrity. It said it was pulling the plug on the NEEA program because it thought it could do a better job itself, despite the fact that it has long participated in the program because the program helped to leverage region-wide energy conservation measures.
In the recent decision, the members of the PUC affirmed: “We have consistently directed the Company to pursue all cost-effective DSM programs in an effort to benefit all Idaho Power customers by delaying the need to build new, costly generating facilities. We are concerned that the company’s recent actions have fostered a stakeholder perception that the company is retreating from its DSM commitments.”
But given Idaho Power’s recent moves, the PUC is increasingly concerned that Idaho Power has not sufficiently included its EEAG in its planning and decision-making on how it administers its energy efficiency programs. The commissioners wrote: “Based on the record in this case, we remain concerned that the company does not fully utilize the EEAG and proactively and collaboratively involve the EEAG and proactively and collaboratively involve the EEAG in the DSM-related decisions. The company’s decisions regarding NEEA and CEERI may or may not have merit. But the company should have consulted the EEAG in reaching those decisions. In light of the stakeholders’ and our continuing concerns about how the company utilizes the EEAG, we find it reasonable to direct the company to file a report with the Commission explaining the company’s perspective on the EEAG’s purpose and value, whether or not the EEAG is working, and how the EEAG could be improved. The company shall file this report within 60 days of the date of this order.”
It is important to note that, as the PUC said, almost all of Idaho Power’s spending on its energy efficiency programs was prudent and that the costs should be recovered from us as customers who benefitted from the programs, directly or otherwise. The Snake River Alliance has long supported Idaho Power’s energy efficiency efforts, though we have also objected when we believed the company was falling short in some areas. The issue here is whether Idaho Power informed its efficiency advisory group of its decisions, particularly its decisions to dial back on its funding of state and regional conservation efforts.
If you’re an Idaho Power customer and if you participate in Idaho Power’s air-conditioner “cycling” program, known as A/C Cool Credit, which was suspended in 2013, you will be re-enlisted this summer – unless you no longer want to participate, in which case you should call Idaho Power. You can also contact the utility and the PUC if you want to question Idaho Power’s decision to discontinue its funding of the successful NEEA and CEERI energy-saving programs described above.
Rocky Barker, the Idaho Statesman’s energy and environment reporter, summed up Idaho Power’s challenge:
“Idaho Power has a job to do to convince the Idaho Public Utilities Commission it is committed to energy efficiency and programs to reduce electricity demand. The perception of green energy activists and others has been that Idaho Power is more interested in generating power that brings profits to its stockholders than expanding energy efficiency programs that in the long run save its customers money. Idaho Power strenuously denies this but now the Commission has joined the chorus.”
The energy conservation ball is now back in Idaho Power’s court.
To review Idaho Power’s application and supporting documents in this case, along with the PUC’s order, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “Closed Cases” in the “Electric” section and scroll down to IPC-E-13-08.