Letters From the West

Idaho Power chooses to stay with coal for now

The Jim Bridger Coal-fired Power Plant in Wyoming is one of region's largest greenhouse gas sources

The Jim Bridger Coal-fired Power Plant in Wyoming is one of region’s largest greenhouse gas sources

Idaho Power Co. will keep its share of coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and Nevada for now.

The investor-owned utility released the results of a study it did that shows that keeping its coal-fired power plants in the utility’s long-range plan is economically preferable to closing them and replacing them with natural gas plants, renewable energy or energy efficiency despite increased costs to meet rising environmental standards.

In an update to its 2011 Integrated Resource Plan, Idaho Power officials said it plans to keep the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs, Wyo., and the North Valmy Generating Station near Battle Mountain, Nev., in its resource portfolio. A third plant, at Boardman, Ore., already was slated for closure by 2020.

The study, which includes analysis from both Idaho Power and a third-party contractor, was filed today with utility regulators in Idaho and Oregon.

The company is currently developing its 2013 IRP, which will forecast customer demand and the preferred portfolio of resources to meet that demand for the next 20 years.

“Based on the research and the facts as we know them today, it’s clear that continuing to maintain and upgrade our coal plants is the best option for our customers, both in terms of cost and in reducing risk by maintaining a diverse resource portfolio,” said Tom Harvey, joint projects manager for Idaho Power.

Based on the planning scenario used in the study, continuing to operate Jim Bridger and Valmy over the next 20 years would save Idaho Power’s customers over $1 billion when compared to the cost of converting each of the units to natural gas, officials said.

“Ultimately, all of these options are going to increase costs to our customers,” Harvey said.

The Idaho Conservation League’s energy expert Ben Otto said Idaho Power’s coal report has some serious flaws.

“It may have concluded coal they plan to stick with coal,” Otto said. : But that is not the last word.”

Otto said the planning sudy did not even consider coal ash pollution, which could become a huge liability and added costs particularly for Valmy.  EPA will issue coal ash regs this summer.

The Wyoming Public Service Commission is holding hearings on the Rocky Mountain Power Co. proposal to spend the money on the environmental upgrade to determine if they are prudent.

Idaho Public Utilities Commission officials said previously they will decide whether to weigh in until after Wyoming’s hearings. The Idaho PUC doesn’t have to rule on the Integrated Resource Plan but Oregon, who originally called for the study, may decide on its own whether Idaho Power’s analysis is valid.

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