Going, Going … Idaho Power Is Proposing to Retire this Nevada Coal Plant Years in Advance

It’s a long way from being a done deal, but Idaho Power has asked the Public Utilities Commission to clear the way for a possible early retirement of a two-unit Nevada coal plant that has outlived its useful and economic life. The early shutdown of the North Valmy Generation Station near Winnemucca, NV, which Idaho Power co-owns with Las Vegas-based NV Energy, has been sought by the Snake River Alliance and other clean energy advocates for many years.

As recently as 2013, Idaho Power defended continuing North Valmy operations beyond 2030. New information shows the plant is becoming uneconomic to operate, prompting Idaho Power to pursue plant closures in 2025 rather than the earlier scheduled 2031 and 2035. NV Energy, Idaho Power’s 50-50 partner in Valmy, has already announced its intent to retire the plant early.

While this is good news for advocates seeking to shut down greenhouse gas-spewing, climate-changing coal plants, there are two components of Idaho Power’s proposal to bear in mind:

  • First, if approved, it will lead to a rate increase as the depreciation timetable to retire the plant is accelerated. It’s similar to paying off a car loan or home mortgage early: It will save money in the long run, but compressing the payoff schedule means slightly higher depreciation payments, as would be expected.
  • Second, Idaho Power is linking an early Valmy retirement to building its long-delayed “Boardman-Hemingway” high-voltage transmission line from southwest Idaho to near Boardman, OR, by the Columbia River. The utility says that new power line, which it says will boost the flow of electricity between the Pacific Northwest and Idaho Power’s Intermountain West service territory, is needed to offset the loss of Valmy’s coal generation. It wants to have that line operating by 2025, the same year it would close the coal plants. The Alliance has not opposed the transmission project, which is still in the planning stage, but says the plants can be closed regardless of the fate of the power line, as other replacement alternatives such as solar power exist.

Idaho Power and its multiple utility partners have already planned for the early retirement of the Boardman coal plant in Oregon, in which it has a 10 percent interest. Closing Valmy in 2025 would leave as the next primary Idaho Power coal plant targets portions of the Jim Bridger coal plant in Wyoming, in which Idaho Power is a one-third owner and which is easily the utility’s largest coal plant.