|I: Idaho Power Seeks PUC OK Before Big Coal Plant InvestmentsIf you’re an Idaho Power customer, the utility estimates it will cost you and other customers nearly $130 million to attach new emission-control devices on two of the four units at the Jim Bridger coal plant in Wyoming. The other two of those coal units will need the same upgrades a few years later. Another coal plant in Nevada will also need an upgrade, and once the federal government issues rules on carbon dioxide emissions all of these coal plants will need additional environmental controls so long as Idaho Power plans to continue burning coal to provide 40 percent of our electricity.
Earlier this year, the state’s largest electric utility reiterated its plans to stick with coal as its second biggest generation resource, just behind hydropower. That commitment to coal will carry a hefty price tag. The cost of upgrading the two coal units at Bridger in 2015 and 2016 is only the beginning. Idaho Power’s most recent planning document filed with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission says it also has to meet environmental compliance deadlines of 2015 for its North Valmy plant in Nevada and 2021 and 2022 for the other two coal units at Bridger. The Jim Bridger coal complex consists of four power plants that were built between 1974 and 1979. At more than 500 megawatts per unit, Jim Bridger is by far Idaho Power’s biggest coal asset.
Idaho Power doesn’t fully own or manage the Wyoming or Nevada coal plants. It is s a half-owner with NV Energy of the Valmy plant in Nevada, and a one-third owner with PacifiCorp of the Bridger plant in Wyoming. Nonetheless, it is responsible for its share of the known environmental compliance costs to keep the plants running within state and federal regulations and statutes, but also to comply with regulations that are in the pipeline and that will add new costs to operating the plants. For instance, the environmental compliance costs Idaho Power wants the PUC to approve do not include the unknown costs of future regulations to crack down on possible carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, which are not addressed in Idaho Power’s proposed retrofits in this case. The White House and its EPA plan to do just that next year, which is one reason many utilities are retiring their coal plants in favor of cleaner alternatives rather than continuing to try to meet new rules to protect public health and the environment.
Idaho Power also has a 10 percent share of the Boardman coal plant in Oregon, but majority owner Portland General Electric and the other participating utilities have reached an agreement to retire Oregon’s only utility coal plant by about 2020, decommissioning the plant well before the end of its useful life in 2030 rather than invest the full amount that would have been required to keep that plant running legally.
Idaho Power on June 28 asked the PUC to grant a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” (CPCN) for the $118 million in Bridger coal plant retrofits that represent its share of the required upgrades. Including funds used during construction of the coal plant upgrades, the total being sought by Idaho Power to recover through customer rates is $129,837,393.
Utilities generally file CPCNs with their regulators when they plan to build new generation or transmission resources, but in this case the cost is so great that Idaho Power wants some assurance from the PUC that it can recover the costs from its customers after it makes the investment. Its request to the PUC will be challenged by various interests, including environmental advocates and some of Idaho Power’s larger customers. Some of these interests also challenged Idaho Power’s last major capital project, the $400 million Langley Gulch natural gas plant near New Plymouth that went online last summer.
Critics of Idaho Power’s plans will argue that the money the utility wants to spend would be better invested in cleaner energy alternatives such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, which over time will be less expensive than the large – but still unknown – costs of continuing to run the out-of-state coal plants. Idaho Power counters that the coal plant investments, which will mean higher monthly electricity rates for its customers, are cheaper than investing in clean energy.
The PUC was to consider a PUC staff recommendation today that the Commission set a deadline for parties to intervene in the case, after which the Commission will presumably set a timeline for public comments, hearings, and other matters. Until then, to review Idaho Power’s filing, testimony from company witnesses, and other information, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “Electric” and “Open Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-13-16. To review the Snake River Alliance’s March request to the PUC asking the Commission to require a CPCN review of these coal plant investments, go to the same site but go to “Closed Cases” and scroll to IPC-E-11-11.
II: Feds Seek Species Protection for Plant Where AEHI Wants to Put Payette Reactor
Purported Idaho nuclear reactor developer Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., first came to Idaho during the holiday season in 2006, promising to build an energy source that could power every home and business in Idaho – and a lot more to boot. Things probably could not have turned out worse for the nuclear “start-up,” which is now mired in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stock price manipulation case; its Eagle, Idaho, office is shut down; and it has little left to show as an operating business, let alone one ready to build a commercial nuclear reactor that could cost $10 billion or more.
AEHI gave up on its first choice for a location, Owyhee County, where county officials quickly concluded it didn’t have a serious proposal. It then fell flat in its second choice, Elmore County, for the same reason. It then found a welcome mat in Payette County, shortly before a federal judge froze its assets in the SEC stock case. It is now out of money, without an office, is hopelessly overdue in filing required SEC financial reports and has all but given up on keeping the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission abreast of its activities.
Just when things couldn’t seem to get much worse, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management weighed in last week. It seems there is a rare plant, the Packard’s milkvetch [Atragalus cusickii var. packardiae], right about where AEHI wants to build its nuclear reactor.
“The only place in the world where this rare plant is found is in a 10 square mile areas in Payette County,” BLM said in a July 8 news release. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently designated the plant a Candidate Species for protection from extinction under the Endangered Species Act.”
The BLM makes it clear there could be big problems for this species should the reactor scheme go forward. According to BLM’s notice and the “U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management Environmental Assessment: Big Willow Packard’s Milkvetch Management,” dated July 1, 2013:
– “The effects of future wildland fires are also considered because these natural events are predictable to a certain degree based on the number and size of wildland fires that have occurred in the past decade. Future development of industrially-zoned land directly to the west of the Stone Quarry Gulch will be considered, as a nuclear power plant is planned for that area…”
– “A nuclear power plant is planned to be constructed on a 5,000 acre parcel along Stone Quarry Road and Big Willow Road, abutting the western boundary of the Big Willow area. Payette County’s general plan was amended in 2011 and the property was rezoned as industrial to make way for the nuclear power plant. The company is currently testing the site and seeking approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission…. Construction of the power plant would result in increased usage of the Big Willow area, as it would bring 5,000 new construction jobs for five years and 1,000 permanent jobs to the site…”
– “The construction of a nuclear power plant adjacent to the OHV area would attract greater recreational use and consequently greater adverse impacts to watershed and vegetation conditions…”
– “Substantial increases in use, particularly those associated with construction and operation of a nuclear power plant, will cause major increases in disturbance levels over the long term…”
– Construction and operation of a nuclear power plant would cause a major loss of wildlife habitat (primarily exotic annuals) and moderate to major increases in disturbance [e.g., lights, vehicles, noise]…”
And on it goes. The question raised by the BLM’s action is how a company that has claimed to have conducted thorough environmental reviews required to select a site for a nuclear power plant could have chosen almost the exact spot that a rare plant species exists?
It took four years from the time the company arrived in Idaho with promises of nuclear jobs to the time it’s assets were temporarily frozen by the SEC in a case that is still pending in federal court in Boise. It took even less time for federal wildlife officials to blow the whistle.
The fate of what little remains of AEHI as a nuclear power promoter is now in the hands of a federal judge in Boise. Meanwhile, the Packard’s milkvetch’s future is getting brighter.
III: Energy Factoid: How Vulnerable is the Energy Sector to Climate Change?
We continue to get a better idea of how climate change will impact life on this planet, but what might it do to our energy sector?
The U.S. Department of Energy has a new report assessing “How America’s critical energy and electricity infrastructure is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” If that didn’t get your attention, how about these climate and energy factoids:
– Increased risk of temporary or partial or full shutdowns at thermoelectric [coal, natural gas, and nuclear] power plants because of decreased water availability for cooling and higher ambient and air water temperatures… A study of coal plants, for example, found that roughly 60 percent of the current fleet is located in areas of water stress”
– “Reduced power generation from hydroelectric power plants in some regions and seasons due to drought and declining snowpack. For example, earlier spring snowmelts could decrease summer water availability leading to potential hydropower shortages when energy demand for cooling is greatest”
– “Higher air conditioning costs and risks of blackout and brownouts in some regions if the capacity of existing power plants does not keep pace with the growth in peak electricity demand due to increasing temperatures and heat waves.”
To learn more, go to http://www.doe.gov/articles/climate-change-effects-our-energy
On the Agenda: Here’s a look at some upcoming energy-related events and meetings in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will continue its series of public workshops to follow up on Idaho Power’s suspension of its popular “A/C Cool Credit” and “Irrigation Peak Rewards” programs, which are designed to shave the company’s overall energy demand during times of highest or “peak” consumption. The workshops will explore how the programs can move forward in 2014 and beyond. The first workshop was held July 10. The next ones are scheduled for:
July 23, Aug. 7, and Aug. 19. Workshops will be held at 9 a.m. at Idaho Power’s offices at 1221 West Idaho St. For more information on the case or the workshops, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “Open Cases” in the “Electric” section and scroll to IPC-E-13-14. The workshops are open to the public.
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold public hearings at the Rigby City Hall Aug. 27 and a telephonic hearing at the PUC’s Boise headquarters Aug. 28 to review a proposed settlement to resolve a possible rate case that would be filed by Rocky Mountain Power (PacifiCorp). Both hearings will begin at 7 p.m. Various parties reached the settlement in advance of the utility actually filing a rate case. Among other things, it sets out the process by which PacifiCorp can deal with depreciation expenses related to the retirement of its 60-year-old Carbon coal plant near Helper, Utah. As part of the proposed settlement, the company agreed it would not file its next rate case before May 31, 2015. It also calls for a .77 percent increase in its base revenue requirement, with the higher rates taking effect this Jan. 1.
The PUC will also conduct a technical hearing in this case at 9:30 on Sept. 11 at its Boise headquarters. To read more about the settlement and the case, go to www.puc.idaho.gov and then “Open Cases” in the “Electric” section and scroll to PAC-E-13-04.
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold its next regular “decision meeting” on July 29. Meetings normally begin at 1:30 p.m., and agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.idaho.gov.