Idaho Power Amps it Up
by K Miller
In a move that's leaving Idaho energy-watchers scratching their heads, Idaho Power has pulled out the stops
with a pricey ad campaign to try to further slow down wind energy development in Idaho.
Anyone wondering whether Idaho Power's unusually aggressive tactics against renewable energy in the 2011 Idaho Legislature ended along with the Legislature's vote to kill the state sales tax incentive for renewables can stop wondering. The state's largest electric utility is cranking it up again - this time in a series of big, colorful newspaper advertisements boasting of its green credentials and lamenting the utility-bill-busting impacts of wind energy.
Idaho Power was a key player in efforts to prevent the renewal of Idaho's renewable energy development sales tax rebate, which is credited with awakening a moribund renewable energy business in the state. The company's main complaint was about the amount of wind coming onto its system, which has been considerable of late. But by the time the Legislature got through with things, the sales tax rebate for all renewables had been killed. The Legislature's unusual action came despite the fact the Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of examining key renewables issues confronting utilities, and as the Legislature itself prepares for its mandated five-year review of the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan, which is the state's primary energy policy roadmap.
Enter Idaho Power's ad campaign, which rather than tout the company's laudable gains in energy efficiency, trains both barrels on wind power. In one ad, Idaho Power says: "Today, about half of the energy in our portfolio is generated from hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal." However, that includes Idaho Power's huge hydro complex, which accounts for most of the renewables the company claims. According to Idaho Power's 2010 Resource Portfolio Fuel Mix (www.idahopower.com/AboutUs/CompanyInformation/Facts/resourcePortfolio_2010.cfm) 48.8 percent of the utility's power came from hydro, with 3.1 percent from wind, .5 percent biomass and .5 percent waste generation. Solar and geothermal were not on the list, as they contribute even smaller amounts of power to the utility.
Another Idaho Power ad that's raising eyebrows says, in part: "Based on a huge and recent spike in wind energy development in Idaho and, based on government-set rates for the purchase of wind energy, Idaho Power customers could pay more than half a billion dollars over the next 20 years over and above what they would pay using other existing energy resources."
Left unsaid is what those other "existing energy resources" are, but presumably they would include coal-fired generation, which brings monumental environmental and future cost risks to the table as a future energy resource. The half-a-billion dollars number is also noteworthy, as it's in the ballpark of what utility customers can expect to pay in the future simply to relicense the Hells Canyon hydropower complex and the environmental mitigation required in order to comply with clean water and endangered species laws, among other things.
Also according to one of the Idaho Power ads: "Integrating all of this variable capacity (renewable energy) also undermines the time-tested, science- and technology-driven, 20-year look-forward plan that is required of all utilities. And that just isn't right." That's a reference to the "Integrated Resource Plans" that all regulated utilities must prepare every two years to show how they will meet their future electricity load. Most utilities in this region do the same thing, so far without the dire consequences predicted in these ads.
That apparently was too much for the Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition (NIPPC, www.nippc.org), which fired back with a half-page ad of its own on the front of the Idaho Statesman's Sunday opinion section. Headlined "The True Costs of Wind Power," the ad warns: "Don't take your utility's word for it. Don't be fooled by full-color advertisements, cute web sites or smiley-faced bill stuffers." NIPPC challenges Idaho Power's math, pointing out that the Idaho PUC set Idaho wind prices at 7 cents per kilowatt, compared to the 12-cent-per-kilowatt price for the new gas plant Idaho Power is building near New Plymouth. "And," NIPPC said, "if the utility bought electricity from ‘other existing energy resources' rather than generating it itself, consumers would save three quarters of a billion dollars over the next 20 years."
The company's ads also refer readers to the company's four-year-old spinoff website, www.getpluggedin.com, where, "Together we can get wind back on a responsible track." That site is salted with blog entries from some of the very same wind opponents who testified against wind energy in the last Legislature. Its news section features a news story about last week's catastrophic tornadoes in the South and Midwest, a headline proclaiming "Clean Energy Source Shows Dark Side in U.S. Tornadoes" and a story that begins: "The deadly tornadoes that tore across the South last week highlighted the cruel and ruthless side of wind, an energy source championed as an earth-friendly alternative to fossil fuels."
BPA Taking Measures to Deal with 'Over-Generation' Conditions by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 4/29/11
Wind Boom's Costs Looming on the Horizon by Editorial Board, Record Searchlight, 5/1/11
Hydro, Wind Battling for Grid Space by Christine Pratt, Wenatchee World, 4/26/11
Power Peak Could Mean Lowered Income for PUDs by Christine Pratt, Wenatchee World, 4/25/11
Bonneville Power may Shut Down Wind Turbines to Protect Salmon by John Laumer, Treehugger, 4/14/11
BPA, Wind Developers Argue Over Too Much Power from Renewables by Ted Sickinger, Oregonian, 4/14/11
Grid Problems Trigger Rolling Wind-Farm Outages in Pacific NW by William Pentland, Forbes, 4/14/11
Wind-Power Producers Fight Possible Shutdown of Turbines by Hal Bernton, The Spokesman-Review, 4/10/11
Bonneville Power Plan Creates Buzz in Industry by Bert Caldwell, The Spokesman-Review, 4/10/11
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