Letters From the West

Idaho PUC tells utility to consider more energy efficiency, renewable resources

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

If Idaho Power and its critics wonder how the Idaho Public Utilities Commission thinks it should get the power to supply their needs in the future they might look at its order released this week on PacifiCorp’s integrated resource plan for eastern Idaho.

Like Idaho Power, PacifiCorp plans to meet its short term needs by upgrading pollution control equipment at its coal plants in Wyoming, which it jointly owns with Idaho Power.

The commission offered no opinion on PacifiCorp’s choices. But it said forecasting coal costs is “fraught with failure and uncertainty,” but it seems likely that the Environmental Protection Agency will impose additional regulation on fossil-fueled generation such as coal and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gases.

“In light of this contingency, it appears to be in the best interest of the company and its customers to continue to evaluate and devote more focus on the development of alternative energy resources,” The three-member commission wrote.

You might remember Idaho Power said it would keep its existing hydro, coal and natural gas plants. The coal plants have been controversial because of efforts to reduce carbon emissions to limit the effects of climate change. Many utilities have replaced aging coal plants with natural gas, which at its current low price produces power for about the same price.

Idaho Power filed a request to recover its investments in emission-control equipment required at the Jim Bridger coal plant in Wyoming. The company owns one-third of the Bridger plant with PaciFiCorp owning the other two-thirds.
You can still comment on Idaho Power’s integrated resource plan. Arguably commenting on the IRP has more impact on rates than waiting for rate cases. Because by the time the commission sets rates, many of the costs are already a done deal.

The commission told PacifiCorp to increase its efforts toward achieving higher levels of energy efficiency and demand reduction.

“Instituting cost-effective energy efficiency measures that reduce customer demand benefits everyone. Such measures can obviate the need for new generation resources and thereby decrease the constant upward pressure on energy pricing.”

Efficiency programs “are almost always preferable” to building new natural gas plants or buying power from the market, the commission told PacifiCorp.

It also gave its two cents on another issue that affects both utilities, transmission line contruction. Idaho Power says it can meet its demand for the next 20 years by building the 500-kilovolt transmission line from Boardman, Ore., to the Hemingway station near Melba.

PacifiCorp seeks to complete the Gateway West Transmission Project to Downey Idaho, to help meet its demand. The project also is scheduled to go across southern Idaho and link with the Hemingway station.

The commission’s staff said there are indications that the need for Gateway West could be offset by accelerating efficiency and demand response programs. It encouraged the company to consider the issue further.

Under Idaho law, the commission really can’t order the utilities to change their two-year plans like Oregon can. The process has turned into a very public affair but Idaho Power’s executive’s get the final say.

But the commission hopes, through its comments, that the utility executives get the message.

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