BOISE, ID — Clean energy advocates are commending Idaho Power for asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to green light the expansion of clean and renewable energy options available to customers. One of those programs is Clean Energy Your Way, which Idaho Power says will help it reach its goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045. Advocacy groups are encouraged by Idaho Power’s efforts to begin addressing climate change and meet Idaho’s growing energy demand through clean and renewable energy, but argue their plan leaves room for improvement—particularly in regards to more community-owned resources.
“Customers have long wanted their electricity to come from clean sources, and are glad to see the utility finally doing its part to move our electric grid toward 100% clean energy,” said Emma Sperry, Climate Fellow at Idaho Conservation League. “However, we know that our transition to clean energy needs to be faster and more equitable—and individuals and local communities are ready to roll up their sleeves and make that happen.”
“Idaho Power has aggressively resisted efforts to provide more fair and accessible options for customers and other third parties to own local clean energy resources themselves,” said Lisa Young, Director of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club. “When a corporate monopoly utility insists on owning all the clean energy projects itself, customers and communities miss out on the full benefits of distributed clean energy ownership.”
Community ownership of renewable energy generation presents many economic benefits to local communities. It promotes local construction of clean energy and creates more local jobs, puts money back into communities for the funding of infrastructure and social services, and creates a more resilient local electric grid.
Community ownership also allows communities to vote with their dollars. It gives them greater control over where their power comes from, what their power sources are, and where their money goes. This ensures profits from electric generation are reinvested in the community rather than profiting wealthy, out-of-state investors.
Community-owned solar is different from the solar subscription model currently proposed by Idaho Power. Idaho Power’s program will likely result in a few large-scale solar projects located far away from most customers that are entirely owned by Idaho Power—taking those economic benefits with them.
An environmental coalition consisting of the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Sierra Club, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, Portneuf Resource Council, Snake River Alliance, and Climate Action Coalition of the Wood River Valley have launched a petition and are calling on Idaho Power to work with community groups to develop a community-owned solar subscription program that will: Permit entities other than the utility to own and install solar arrays on the grid, promote the installation of solar arrays located within communities, provide mechanisms for community members to subscribe to third-party-owned solar, and support mechanisms in subscription projects that directly benefit low-income customers.
“I want a solar project in my neighborhood—on a school, church, community center, barn—that can be shared by my community,” said Katherine Noble, a Hailey resident and member of the Climate Action Coalition of the Wood River Valley. “Idaho Power’s customers in Oregon already have the option to subscribe to community-owned solar sources. It’s only fair to give Idaho customers the same opportunity.”
Anyone interested in community-owned solar is encouraged to send a comment to the Idaho PUC (reference case # IPC-E-21-40) urging them to require Idaho Power to work with community groups to develop community-owned solar. The comment deadline is May 12, 2022. Idaho Power’s long-standing battle over customer-owned solar net-metering will resurface again this summer when the results of its solar value study are released. Advocates will urge people to engage this summer to help ensure a fair valuation for customer-owned solar in Idaho.