PUC Hearing on Idaho Power Renewable Energy Contracts Set for Tonight 

ADAM ROSENLUND
  • Adam Rosenlund

A major change to the way Idaho Power wants to purchase  renewable energy is set to receive a public hearing tonight, and both utilities and renewable energy advocates say much is at risk—but for different reasons.

Going before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission at its headquarters at 472 Washington St., the proposed policy change centers on the contracts that utilities are federally required to enter with alternative energy developers.

Idaho Power, Avista Utilities and PacifiCorp have requested that contracts with renewable energy producers be shortened from 20 years to two years. Currently, the PUC has agreed to set the length of contracts to five years while it collects testimony and conducts hearings.

Groups like the Idaho Conservation League maintain that shorter contracts would discourage developers, while utilities like Idaho Power contend longer contracts risk over-burdening ratepayers.

“It’s like asking someone to buy a house but only with a two-year mortgage,” said ICL Energy Associate Ben Otto. “This would squash any future development.”

At issue is a part of the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, which requires utilities to buy electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric plants. Since the act was put in place in 1978, Idaho utilities have entered contracts with 64 hydro producers, 27 wind power producers, 10 biomass generators and three thermal energy projects.

Until last year, no contracts had been made with solar energy companies.

In December 2014 the PUC gave Idaho Power the green light on five solar power projects from Boston-based First Wind that are expected to generate energy for almost 30,000 homes in Ada, Elmore, Owyhee and Power counties. The projects are slated for completion by the end of 2016, but the contracts run for 20 years—exactly the kind that Idaho Power wants to change.

Including SunEdison-owned First Wind, Idaho Power entered into nine solar power contracts in 2014.

Idaho Power attorney Donovan Walker said the new solar contracts and those proposed for the next few years will provide nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity, sufficient to power 1.3 million homes and exceeding the total load on the power grid.

Idaho Power representatives claim the company already has access to enough energy, and adding more unnecessary contracts puts the cost directly on customers.

“Those 20-year contracts—they’re a risk-free investment for the solar developers that are unfortunately shouldered by our customers,” said Walker. “That’s why we want two years. We would have the ability to refresh and update, as needed, the prices and inputs on a two-year basis.”

The June 24 hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. For those who wish to submit testimony but can't make it to tonight's meeting, the PUC will gather more comments, questions and concerns at a telephonic hearing, set for Tuesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. To participate, dial 1-800-920-7487 and enter the code 76373262#
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