Idaho Power Co. is preparing to study the impacts and the costs of integrating larger amounts of solar power into its grid.
The utility already has studied the costs and impacts of integrating wind power, which added 600 megawatts of capacity to the system quickly, causing challenges to its reliability. The dropping price of rooftop solar could present its own challenges.
But if Idaho Power and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission work together with solar entrepreneurs and green energy advocates, it could also provide many benefits and reduce costs as the utility moves away from its coal generation plants.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado just completed phase 2 of its Western Wind and Solar Integration Study in November 2013. That can offer Idaho Power and the public some ideas.
Among its findings:
• Increasing the size of the geographic area over which the wind and solar resources are drawn substantially reduces variability.
• Using wind and solar forecasts in utility operations reduces operating costs.
• Demand response programs can provide flexibility that enables the electric power system to more easily integrate wind and solar – and they may be cheaper than alternatives.
Idaho Power said in its wind study and the Web page announcing the solar study that the major challenge is the need to have other generation sources in reserve to immediately kick in when the wind dies or the sun goes behind a cloud.
“Idaho Power is planning to study these challenges with the intent of understanding their impacts and associated costs,” the web page states. “As with wind, the assessment of these costs is an important part of efforts to ensure that the price Idaho Power pays in acquiring solar power is fair to generators and customers alike.”
What worries solar panel installer Matt Dunay is that Idaho Power isn’t talking about the benefits. Homeowners who install solar panels help offset the need to build new generation plants and because Idaho Power’s use peaks when solar power does, it lines up well.
Idaho Power said it expects to hold a public workshop at which interested parties can provide comments on study methodology and analysis. It is soliciting comments. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission came down hard on the utility last year, shooting down the utility’s plan to increase the costs for most solar customers.
“We advise the company that it would enhance consideration of future program-specific changes if it informed and obtained feedback from its customers and other stakeholders before proposing them,” the commission wrote.
That seems to be what Idaho Power is doing now, so speak up.