A week after opponents of coal-fired electricity flooded the chambers of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, regulators have denied a bid by Idaho Power to charge its customers $130 million to help implement mandated pollution controls for two of four generators at the Jim Bridger coal plant near Rock Springs, Wyo., where the utility company is part owner.
The following is an excerpt of the PUC's Dec. 2 decision:
“The detrimental effects of long-term coal use on human health, the climate, wildlife, land and water are well-documented. However, Idaho Power’s analysis presented and (commission) staff’s investigation confirmed that investment in selective catalytic reduction controls is presently the least-cost, least-risk alternative to both reduce environmental effects and allow reliable electric service to continue.”
As Idaho Power sticks with coal, however, ratepayers won’t be footing the bill, at least for now:
“While the commission granted the certificate, denial of binding ratemaking treatment means the commission will be able to review costs as the project progresses,” wrote Gene Fadness, a commission spokesman, in his press release about the ruling Monday, which quoted the commission’s decision. “Because of the uncertain future of coal-fired generation, we find it unreasonable to prematurely commit ratepayer dollars to support Idaho Power’s investment.”
Approval would have provided “the company with economic, social and political assurance it seeks, while leaving ratepayers to “bear the risk of environmental uncertainties,” Fadness said.
The ruling is being seen by many who protested the application last week as a moment of breathing room in a race for the planet to come up with alternatives to producing electricity in place of so-called “thermal fuels.”
“This is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air,” said Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff. “Idaho Power’s customers have spoken. They no longer want to be responsible for the harm to human health and our climate that these plants and their owners are responsible for. Idahoans want cleaner energy instead.”
Idaho Power isn’t likely to turn the lights out at the Bridger plant any time soon, however, nor does it mean customers won’t face future charges for the upgrades.
Majority stakeholder in the plant, PacifiCorp, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, has already received the go-ahead in Wyoming and Utah to install the controls designed to curb nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, known for their harmful environmental and health effects. Fadness said Idaho Power and PacifiCorp would likely seek approval to charge for the upgrades through future “rate case” applications that are a regular part of maintaining power generation facilities.