Idaho Power seeks to Suspend Wind-Power Obligation 

Idaho Power has filed a petition to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to suspend the company's responsibility to obey the embattled Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.

According to PURPA, which was passed during the energy crisis of the late 1970s to promote alternative energy sources, utilities like Idaho Power are federally compelled to buy power from smaller, independent companies at an "avoided cost" rate equal to what the utilities would spend to generate the power themselves. Critics of the plan, including President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, say it prohibits a competitive energy market and does little to promote alternative energy. Idaho Power, in its petition, also alleges that it is an easy mandate for larger companies to manipulate unfairly.

"It would not be difficult for a 150 [megawatt] wind project to reconfigure itself into five 30 [megawatt] wind projects and qualify each project for the published rates," the company says in its petition, claiming that such a system creates an "unmanageable influx of intermittent generation."

The Idaho PUC set the avoided cost rate and determined the specifics of Idaho Power's alternative energy contracts last November. Since then, the company has raised its PURPA wind-powered contracts from less than 1 megawatt (enough to power 850 homes for about a month) to 61.5 megawatts, with another 21.5 megawatts pending before the PUC. If granted, the company says the suspension would be used to analyze the influence of PURPA-generated wind resources on the company's overall power costs and market prices. The company also wants to use the time to propose a new avoided cost rate.

"Today's application is not an indictment or rejection of wind generation," said Idaho Power Vice President for Power Supply Jim Miller. "In our judgment the IPUC cannot conduct a review of reliability issues and costs associated with wind power without first instituting a temporary suspension of these mandatory purchase obligations."

On July 1, the PUC also approved the PURPA-mandated purchase by Idaho Power of two wind projects outside of Burley, each including seven, 1.5-megawatt wind turbines.

The PUC will hear oral arguments on the proposed suspension on July 22, 9:30 a.m., in the commission hearing room at 472 W. Washington St. To read the case, use the "File Room" link on the commission's Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov.

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