Letters From the West

Idaho PUC urges Idaho Power to collaborate on energy future

The North Valmy coal plant near Winnemucca, Nev., which Idaho Power co-owns with NV Energy.

The North Valmy coal plant near Winnemucca, Nev., which Idaho Power co-owns with NV Energy.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission told Idaho Power this week it expects the utility to “collaborate with stakeholders on how best to use energy efficiency as a resource.”

The commission made the statement in an order accepting Idaho Power’s two-year Integrated Resource Plan, which says it can meet its modest growth projections by building a 500 kilovolt transmission line from Melba to Boardman, Ore. and increasing programs that reduce electricity demand.

The commission staff wrote that it agreed with Idaho Power that reducing demand and the power line are the least-cost, least-risk alternatives for the next two decades. But they expressed doubts the line would be built by 2018 as Idaho Power says.

But even if it doesn’t, the utility says it will have enough power to meet demand through 2020.

“By accepting the company’s filing, we acknowledge only the company’s ongoing planning process, not the conclusions or results reached through that process,” the commission said.

Idaho Power predicts its customer base will increase from the current 500,000 to about 670,000 by 2032 for an average load increase of 21 MW per year, or 1.1 percent annual growth.

The Snake River Alliance and the Idaho Conservation League said Idaho Power under estimated the cost of continuing coal generation in light of existing and potential federal regulation of carbon emissions. The two groups also expressed concerns over the risk to Idaho Power’s customers from the utility depending on coal from plants in other states where Idaho Power is only part-owner.

Idaho Power continues to plan on about 220 megawatts of output from the North Valmy plant near Winnemucca, Nev. It co-owns the plant with NV Energy. Yet NV Energy has said publicly it will retire its two units of the plant in 2021 and 2025 respectively.

The commission urged Idaho Power “to be actively involved in matters relating to Valmy and to promptly apprise us of developments that could impact the company’s continued reliance on that coal-fired resource.”

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.

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