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Idaho Energy Update
The Snake River Alliance has a new home in Boise! The Alliance recently relocated from our former digs at 9th & Jefferson in downtown Boise to 6th & Idaho. We’ll have an office warming celebration from 5:30-7:30 p.m. today, Thursday, Oct. 4. We’ve only moved three blocks, but our new office comes complete with windows and natural light. We’re in the historic Eagle’s Center building on the corner of 6th & Idaho on the third floor above Java Coffee House (223 N. 6th Street, Suite 317).
Read on for more on these items and a look at what’s coming up. Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them along!
I: PUC Agrees to Deep Cuts in Avista’s Energy Efficiency Programs
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has signed off on a request by Spokane-based Avista Utilities to drastically curtail funding for the north Idaho utility’s energy efficiency program. It’s the third case within a year in which an Idaho electric utility sought and received reductions in conservation spending. Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power have already seen their efficiency collections reduced.
Conservation groups, including the Snake River Alliance and the Idaho Conservation League, opposed Avista’s request on the grounds the utility didn’t provide enough evidence to support such a drastic reduction – 45 percent – in Avista’s efficiency programs. They also argued that if the if the utility is over-collecting for efficiency programs, it raises the question of whether Avista is truly pursuing “all cost-effective efficiency” programs as required by the PUC.
Idaho electric utilities rely on a small surcharge known as a tariff rider that’s applied to monthly bills in order to fund most of the energy conservation programs. Conservation groups have fought repeatedly for greater funding for efficiency programs such as incentives to buy more efficient appliances. While the Avista request will lead to a 1.3 percent decrease in a typical electric bill, the actual savings from efficiency improvements have proven more than enough to offset the cost of the surcharge.
The Commission also granted Avista’s request to discontinue its natural gas efficiency programs altogether.
II: Idaho Wind Developer Notches Win Against Idaho Power before FERC
Good news for Idaho wind developers has been hard to come by lately, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in September handed them a big victory over Idaho Power.
Idaho Power has claimed the right to “curtail” the energy it takes from wind developers during certain periods, such as when demand is light and the need for large amounts of power is lower. According to the Associated Press, Idaho Power claimed that, during periods of light load, being forced to purchase power from wind developers under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) forces the utility to ramp down other less expensive generation resources.
Idaho Wind Partners disagreed, saying PURPA, which was passed by Congress in 1978 to encourage development of small renewable energy projects, restricts such “curtailment” to times of emergencies when the company’s system is at risk. Curtailing power from wind farms with long-term power contracts with utilities can cost wind developers significant amounts since they’re only paid when they deliver electricity. The Idaho PUC is in the process of reviewing this issue and asked FERC not to rule in the case because the PUC hadn’t yet made its ruling, the AP said.
The issue of utilities unilaterally curtailing delivery of wind energy from wind farms is one of the larger issues presently before the Idaho Commission.
III: BPA Leans Toward Boardman-Hemingway Line to Serve Southeast Idaho Customers
The Bonneville Power Administration says it has placed an Idaho-Oregon transmission line proposed by Idaho Power at the top of its priority list as it searches for ways to meet new electric load it will inherit in southeast Idaho in 2016.
BPA solicited public comments in August on various options to provide service to six utility customers because the current provider, PacifiCorp, has announced it’s terminating its agreement to serve those customers by 2016. Currently, BPA lacks the needed transmission infrastructure to deliver power to those customers, which include the municipal utilities in Idaho Falls and Soda Springs and the cooperative utilities Fall River Electric, Lost River Electric, Lower Valley Power & Light, and Salmon River Electric.
Combined, the utilities provide about 250 average megawatts of electricity to their customers, although their peak demand is about 450MW, roughly the output of two large natural gas power plants or a moderately sized coal-burning power plant.
Bonneville has been analyzing and prioritizing various ways to deliver the power to the Idaho customers, looking at such options as partnering with other utilities planning to build new transmission lines, building its own transmission lines, or importing the power from places like Montana. In placing the proposed high-voltage Idaho Power Boardman-to-Hemingway transmission line at the top of the priority list, Bonneville can more easily move power from its Pacific Northwest system into southern Idaho. The existing line from southwest Idaho into Oregon and Washington markets is often at or near capacity, making it difficult at times to move power within the region.
Last year, BPA joined with Idaho Power and PacifiCorp in signing agreements in which Bonneville will participate in the permitting process for Idaho Power’s proposed 300-mile Boardman to Hemingway line from Boardman on the Columbia River to Idaho Power’s new Hemingway substation in Owyhee County. That project has been delayed repeatedly and is now scheduled for completion in 2018, although it is still being studied and a federal environmental impact statement has yet to be completed. They are also teaming up on the proposed 1,100-mile Gateway West transmission line from the Hemingway substation to central Wyoming (see below).
For more information on BPA’s proposals to serve Southeast Idaho, go to www.bpa.gov/goto/southeastidaholoadservice
IV: BLM Selects “Preferred Alternatives” for Southern Idaho Transmission Project
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has identified its preferred alternatives for routes for the proposed Gateway West Transmission Project, proposed by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power to run from central Wyoming to the Idaho Power Hemingway substation in Owyhee County.
If built, Gateway West would run 1,000 miles between Hemingway and Glenrock, WY, where PacifiCorp owns multiple coal plants and is planning new wind projects. The project would be the largest transmission project proposed in the United States and has not been without controversy, particularly in southern Idaho where a number of counties raised concerns about possible routes for the line.
Identification of the preferred alternative route is required under federal environmental laws as the BLM works on its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the project’s possible impacts. BLM expects to release its final EIS and begin taking public comments by the end of this year.
For more information about the Gateway West project and review the possible power line routes or to be placed on the e-mail update list, go to www.gatewaywestproject.com
On The Agenda:
► The Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment (ICIE) holds its 2012 Annual Workshop, Practical Paths to Common Sense Environmental Regulations, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Boise Hotel and Convention Center (formerly the Holiday Inn) on Vista Avenue near I-84 in Boise. The workshop will explore enforcement and implementation issues related to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. For more information and to register, go to www.icie.org
► The Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission’s next meetings are scheduled for Oct. 19 in Twin Falls and Nov. 16 at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The agenda and meeting details have not yet been released but will be posted on the Commission’s website. Gov. Butch Otter created the LINE Commission last Feb. 1 “to provide recommendations to the governor on how the (Idaho National Laboratory) can continue playing an important role in economic growth and energy security.” The Commission has been exploring ways to expand activities at the INL, but statements made when it was created left the impression some on the Commission are interested in adding commercial radioactive waste shipments into Idaho or even re-opening the landmark 1995 agreement between Idaho and the federal government banning more waste shipments into the state. For more information, go to www.line.idaho.gov
► The Idaho Legislature’s Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee meets at 10 a.m. Oct. 18 and 8 a.m. Oct. 19 in East Wing Room 42 at the state Capitol. The committee’s agenda has not been posted yet. For more information, go to http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/
► The Idaho Power Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 11 at Idaho Power’s corporate headquarters. The agenda for the meeting has not been posted on the company’s website, but the public is urged to attend. Utility Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) are required to be prepared every two years and are designed as a roadmap for how utilities will meet future demand and with what kinds of resources. For more information, go to http://www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/PlanningForFuture/irp/default.cfm
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on Oct. 9, 15, 22, and 29. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us. The meetings typically start at 1:30 p.m.