Letters From the West

FERC files complaint against Idaho PUC over wind projects

Wind turbines in Power County installed by Nordex USA (Nordex photo)

Wind turbines in Power County installed by Nordex USA (Nordex photo)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a civil suit Friday to enforce an earlier order against the Idaho Public Utilities Commission over wind power projects near Murphy and in Utah.
The complaint  is the first filed by FERC against a state public utilities commission in the 35-year history of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, said Peter Richardson, an attorney who represents renewable developers. FERC oversees electric and natural gas delivery policy.

It had already ruled that the Idaho commission violated federal law when it denied an appeal by developers for three Murphy Flat wind power projects. FERC’s complaint also includes the 21-megawatt Grouse Creek Wind Park in Utah, which had planned to sell Idaho Power power under a similar contract.
The appeal was based on FERC’s 2011 decision that the commission’s rejection of contracts for Murphy Flat with Idaho Power were “inconsistent” with regulations and rules governing projects under PURPA. FERC said the Idaho Commission should have recognized power contracts signed by the several wind developers by a deadline it set in 2010 as a “legally enforceable obligation.”
The Idaho Commission had said the wind developers contracts were not signed by Idaho Power by the deadline and so they were not valid. FERC is challenging this so-called “bright line rule.”
The Idaho Commission had no comments, said its spokesman Gene Fadness. But when FERC had initially said it would bring enforcement actions in 2012 it said it could not by state law accept the Murphy Flat petition because it waited 15 months after the original FERC order to file with the state.
“The lack of a timely appeal disrupts the regulatory process, introduces uncertainty and is contrary to the interests of ratepayers and utilities,” the IPUC said in that statement.
FERC said in its complaint PURPA regulations, invoke “a separate federal right, and is neither precluded by any state proceedings (or lack thereof) nor subject to any statutory or regulatory deadline.”
Congress passed PURPA in 1978 to open up the electricity market to small producers. The law requires utilities to purchase the power at a cost equal to what it would cost the utility to build a plant to supply that power. That rate is called the “avoided cost.”
That avoided cost rate and the regulations for administering PURPA are placed in the state utility commission’s hands. But FERC oversees the states.

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