Letters From the West

Customers at hearing reject Idaho Power coal plant upgrade

Customers raise there hands at a PUC hearing saying they share concerns about Idaho Power's proposed coal plant upgrade( Sierra Club photo)

Customers raise their hands at a PUC hearing saying they share concerns about Idaho Power’s proposed coal plant upgrade( Sierra Club photo)

Idaho Power customers filled the Idaho Public Utilities Commission’s hearing room Monday to tell regulators they don’t want ratepayers to pay for upgrading its Wyoming coal plant.

More than 100 people packed the small PUC hearing room to testify on Idaho Power’s request for ratepayers to pay for $130 million in pollution-control equipment for the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant near Rock Springs, Wyo. to meet state and federal rules and a deadline two years away.

“We had people standing in the hallway and sitting on the floor,” said PUC spokesman Gene Fadness.

All 26 people who testified raised concerns with the proposal which Lisa Grow, Idaho Power senior vice president of power supply said in the Idaho Statesman was necessary or the utility would have to spend far more to build gas plants to replace the power.

Critics like the Idaho Conservation League’s Ben Otto say Idaho Power has enough surplus of power through 2024 to replace the coal with other options including energy efficiency, demand response programs and renewable energy.

“In short we do not believe the risks to ratepayers have been properly accounted for, and we are deeply concerned about the environmental and public health consequences of Idaho Power’s continued reliance on coal fired electricity generation,” said Zack Waterman, Director of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Then he asked the commission if he could ask the audience for a show of hands if they share his concerns.

“Let it be noted in the public record that nearly everyone raised their hands,” said PUC Commissioner Marsha Smith, who chaired the meeting.

So far the commission has received 200 written comments and nearly all opposed putting the upgrades on the ratepayers, Fadness said. Only a few industrial and business groups and local officials supported the company.

“We said all along we wanted to initiate a discussion about how we move forward,” said Brad Bowlin, an Idaho Power spokesman. “I think last night is evidence that’s taking place.”

The Commission is expected to rule on the proposal soon.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West