Letters From the West

Green Power programs grew except at Idaho Power

Wind turbines in Power County.

Wind turbines in Power County.

Despite the economy, electric customers throughout the Northwest were willing to pay more to buy green power.

A new report shows 13% more customers signed up for green power programs across more than 60 utilities in the Northwest between 2010 and 2012. However, participation in Idaho Power’s program dropped slightly during that period.

Idaho Power had 2,131 customers enrolled in the program in 2012 that ensures the customers’ power comes from new renewable sources. Their participation is the environmental equivalent of removing more than 2,200 cars from the road or planting more than 3,500 acres of trees.

The report was commissioned by the Renewable Northwest Project, to assess the progress of the programs.

“The substantial growth in voluntary green power program participation shows that customers want more renewable power, and they are not afraid to show it, even during a slow economy,” said RNP’s executive director Rachel Shimshak.

But Idaho Power had a different experience.

“We’ve seen a slight decrease in participation since 2010, possibly a residual effect from the economic downturn,” said Lynette Berriochoa, an Idaho Power spokeswoman.

During that same period Idaho Power was in a fight with wind developers who were dramatically increasing their share of Idaho Power’s generation using a federal law that forced the utility to buy their power. Idaho Power, which serves about 500,000 customers, embarked on a marketing campaign that was critical of wind and other renewable power sources and portrayed them as driving up its customers’ costs.

Thoughout the campaign the company attempted to downplay its rhetorical effects and expressed continued support for renewable energy. Berriochoa said the 10-year-old flexible green power program remains an opportunity for Idaho Power customers to offset their electric use with renewable resources.

“Our partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation provides another avenue for customers who want to support environmentally certified projects in the Northwest,” she said.

Regionally more than 243,000 customers participate in green power programs, which is enough to power roughly 179,000 homes. This has prevented 2.8 billion pounds of CO2 emissions, equivalent to taking more than 268,000 cars off the road, or planting nearly 293,000 acres of forest.

Ironically, with energy efficiency programs, demand reduction programs and the dropping prices for wind and solar power, customers can get more and more green power from their traditional source without paying the premium. It may be customers can do more to reduce greenhouse gases today by aggressively participating in demand reduction programs, energy efficiency or installing solar panels on their homes.

And those measures will save them money over the long term.

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.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Letters from the West