Saturday, June 21, 2014

Idaho Power: Wind Power Intermittent, Short Notice Driving Up Costs

Posted By on Sat, Jun 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Idaho Power says it is nearing its limit of integrating wind power into its power grid and wants to start charging more to wind developers.

The utility claims that wind generation is intermittent at best, and forces the company to modify its systems to depend more on hydro or natural gas on short notice. According to Idaho Power, the abrupt modifications result in higher supply costs, which are passed onto customers.

Idaho Power insists that costs associated with wind integration are currently "under collected" and discounts to customers average about $3.42 per megawatt hour. That is compared to a 2007 study that the utility conducted, which estimated integration costs were about $7.92 per MWh.

As for its capacity limits, Idaho Power says it currently has about 679 megawatts of wind capacity on its system, with 505 MW coming online in the past three years alone.

Following public comments, Idaho Power and wind and renewable energy partners are expected to participate in a settlement conference July 9.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Public Utility Commission Says 'No' to Idaho Power's Attempt to Curtail New Solar Deals With Small Producers

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 12:25 PM

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has slapped the hand of Idaho Power in the utility's desire to step away from its obligation under federal law to craft new agreements to buy power from qualifying small solar-power producers.

But in its ruling, made public today, the IPUC agreed with Idaho Power's argument that the utility "incurs expense when it integrates solar generation into its system and that the future contracts should include integration costs in the form of a discount to the amount the utility pays solar developers, ensuring that these costs are not passed on to customers."

Idaho Power had sought to stop signing new deals with larger-sized (10- and 20-megawatt) solar projects seeking contracts under the federal rules. The Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act - better known as PURPA - requires utilities to purchase power from small-power producers.

But Idaho Power had argued that dozens of solar projects were already under contract or attempting to obligate Idaho Power to buy up to 500 megawatts of electricity capacity, and was seeing a "rush of contract proposals" in anticipation of new solar integration charges.

IPUC ruled that it "appreciated: Idaho Power's concern but suspending the PURPA obligation would have not been "the appropriate remedy."

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Williams Natural Gas Plant Rocked by Blast

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 10:36 AM

As Idaho continues to dial up its efforts to extract natural gas from its lands—both private and pubic—a community in neighboring Wyoming is reeling from an explosion and fire at a natural gas processing plant.

The entire town of Opal, Wyo., about 100 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, was evacuated after an explosion ripped through a cryogenic processing tower, which chills unrefined natural gas. The subsequent fire at the plant continued to burn through the night and early morning hours.

The plant was owned by Williams Partners LP, a subsidy of Williams that owns and operates the main Williams Northwest Pipeline, which runs through Idaho and the Intermountain West.

The Opal plant removes carbon dioxide and other impurities from natural gas that comes from gas fields in the region. It can gather up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day, and it sends the refined product into pipelines that go to urban centers to the east, west and south.

No one was said to be injured in the April 23 blast. Emergency responders closed nearby Highway 30 and residents waited out the night in motels outside of town.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blast at Williams Northwest Gas Plant Rocks Tri-Cities Region

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 9:30 AM

A major blast at a natural gas processing plant on the Washington-Oregon border seriously injured five workers and caused 1,000 nearby residents and agricultural workers to be evacuated from their farms and homes. The Associated Press reports that a mushroom cloud of black smoke was visible for more than a mile. Residents reported hearing the explosion from as far away as 20 miles.

The facility is part of the Williams Northwest Pipeline, which operates nearly 15,000 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines through the region. The blast occurred in the Washington town of Plymouth, where the facility cools natural gas into a liquefied state.

The Williams Northwest Pipeline crosses Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.


This morning's Tri-City Herald reports that is was unknown when Plymouth residents would be able to return to their homes.

Monday's blast, which sent shrapnel into a 14.6-million-gallon storage tank, resulted in the leak of super-cold liquefied natural gas.

Barge and boat traffic was shut down on the nearby Columbia River and rail lines near the plant also came to a standstill.

The Herald reports that up to 120 responders were in Plymouth Monday afternoon, including regional fire crews and law enforcement agencies, state Department of Transportation officials and Washington state troopers.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Herald: More Trouble For Trash-to-Biodiesel Firm

Posted By on Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 10:35 AM

It was less than 10 years ago that a company called Green Power was barnstorming throughout the region with hopes of bringing its trash-to-biodiesel technology to communities that promised tax breaks and a favorable regulatory environment.

But officials in Pasco, Wash., called the tactics of Green Power "lies and promises," and the company's CEO MIchael Spitzauer is in federal custody on charges of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

And this morning's Tri-City Herald is reporting that a U.S. trustee assigned to Green Power is recommending that the company not be granted bankruptcy protection, and the Port of Pasco has begun eviction proceedings to oust Green Power from its region.

Spitzauer is accused of defrauding investors of at least $6.7 million over seven years. Additionally, the Washington Department of Ecology shut down Green Power's unfinished facility in 2009 because it lacked proper air quality permits.

And get this: The Herald ran a check of public records and discovered that Green Power's acting CEO Judith Calhoun recently filed to incorporate a company—Atlantis Renewable Energy Systems—in Washington state, listing herself as the sole owner. Calhoun is also Green Power's vice president of finance.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Prosecutors: Trash-to-Biodiesel Firm Evicted for 'Lies and Promises'

Posted By on Sun, Jan 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Less than 10 years ago, a company called Green Power was barnstorming throughout the region with hopes of bringing its trash-to-biodiesel technology to communities that promised tax breaks and a favorable regulatory environment.

That was then.

This morning's Tri-City Herald reports that following years of what Pasco, Wash., officials called "lies and promises," they're trying to kick Green Power out of their community. In fact, the CEO of Green Power, Michael Spitzauer, is in federal custody after he was charged in December with wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering.

The Port of Pasco had begun eviction proceedings to oust Green Power from its region.

Spitzauer is accused of defrauding investors of at least $6.7 million over seven years. Additionally, the Washington Department of Ecology shut down Green Power's unfinished facility in 2009 because it lacked proper air quality permits.

Spitzauer is due in a Yakima, Wash., courtroom this coming Thursday, Jan. 9.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Idaho Power Customers Won't Pay For Coal Plant Pollution Controls ... At Least For Now

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 10:11 AM

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.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Feds Approve Gateway West Transmission Line

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 1:00 PM


After years of controversy, a final route for the massive Gateway West transmission line has been given the green light by the U.S. Interior Department. 

The power line will stretch nearly 1,000 miles from central Wyoming to southwest Idaho, running on a combination of public and private land—prompting pushback from farmers and other property owners.

According to the Twin Falls Times-News, Bureau of Land Management approved construction on eight segments along the route, including through a swath of private land in Cassia County. Two segments east of Jerome and northwest of Murphy remain to be secured and will go through a public review period due to their proximity to the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Potential impacts to sage grouse habitat has also been a longtime sticking point for the project

The Times-News reports that about 40 landowners in Cassia County will be directly affected by the route, along with dozens of farming partners. And even though federal regulators have approved 80 percent of the project's route, the Idaho State Journal reports that regional landowners aren't ready to give up their opposition, calling for affected counties to band together and fight the decision as far as they can take it.

Construction on the transmission line is expected to begin in 2016, with line service scheduled to start in phases between 2019-2023.

Construction will include 180-foot towers, each of which require 2,500-square-foot bases. "That makes for quite a hassle when farmers rely on center pivots for irrigating, crop dusting from airplanes and other chemical treatments on their crops," wrote Idaho Falls-based

The 1,500-megawatt line has been in the works since 2007, when Rocky Mountain Power submitted the project to federal environmental permitting. A joint project between Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, it will begin at the Windstar substation near Glenrock, Wyo., and terminate at the Hemingway substation near Melba.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter hailed the decision:

"This federal process has gone on too long, and it continues to be fraught with uncertainty and confusion. This week’s announcement raises at least as many questions as it answers. I’ve made no secret about my position—we need Gateway West. I am committed to ensuring that Idaho voices are heard on this issue, including those of our counties and private property owners. As I expressed again to Secretary Jewell in Washington last month, my collaborative sage-grouse plan establishes a model for the kind of approach that’s needed."

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Idaho Power Agrees to Keep Revised A/C Cool Credit Program

Posted By on Sat, Oct 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM

In 2003, Idaho Power introduced its "A/C Cool Credit" program, crediting customers $7 each month from June through August to allow Idaho Power to remotely cycle air conditioners on-and-off during peak use hours. Approximately 37,000 customers participated in the energy-saving program, allowing Idaho Power to install direct-load control devices on their air conditioning units.

But earlier this year, Idaho Power said it wanted to pull the plug on A/C Cool Credit, claiming it was losing money due to what it called "reduced demand on Idaho Power's generation system." Idaho Power claimed it spent about $5.5 million in 2012, with much of the expense in direct payments to customers who volunteered to participate in the program.

But the Idaho Public Utilities Commission said that, instead of suspending the program, a negotiated settlement would be created where customers would be paid $1 per month for the summer of 2013 even though air conditioner cycling didn't occur.

And on Oct. 11, parties agreed to a revised program, saying that the value to both Idaho Power and its customers combined would about $16.7 million annually.

The new plan will work as follows: The A/C Cool Credit will be available on weekdays from June 15 to August 15. Participating customers would receive a $15 bill credit over three billing periods, as opposed to the $7 per month credit for the three-month season in previous years. Idaho Power will not actively market the program, but will recruit customers who move into a home where a load-control device has already been installed. The company will accept new participants upon request.

Parties who signed the new agreement included the PUC, Idaho Power, the Idaho Conservation League and the Snake River Alliance.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Intermountain Gas Customer Rates to Increase October 1

Posted By on Thu, Sep 26, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Beginning next Tuesday, Oct. 1, customers of Intermountain Gas will be hit with an average rate increase of 4.15 percent. In particular, the increase is tied to the Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment, the variable portion of rates that customers pay for natural gas. About half of a customer's monthly bill is the variable PGA portion.

What that means for customers who use natural gas for space and water hearing the increase will be approximately $1.85 per month while customers who use natural gas for space heating only will see an average monthly increase of 68 cents. Commercial customers will see an approximate monthly increase of $14.18.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which approved the increase, says its Intermountain Gas's first customer rate increase in five years. In 2012, customers say a rate decrease of 7.1 percent; in 2011 the decrease was 5.3 percent; in 2010, there was a 1.6 percent decrease and in 2009 there was a 22.2 decrease.

Intermountain Gas said this year's increase is primarily due to an increase in transportation costs billed to the company by the Northwest Pipeline as well as an increase in the weighted average cost of gas.

Intermountain Gas serves about 320,000 customers across Idaho.

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