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Waiting Game Vexes Idaho Wind Farmers

by Julie Pence, Freelance Writer
Capital Press, December 1, 2006

Idaho Power Co. stiffens rules for small operators

BELL RAPIDS, Idaho - When Jared Grover bought 315 acres on the Bell Rapids project in 2001, he wasn't planning on a full-time income from farming.

With a master's degree in accounting, "I figured I would do taxes in the winter to make up for what I didn't make on the farm," he said.

But coaxing enough income from the soil to support his family became more complicated after Southern Idaho's largest utility - Idaho Power Co. - increased power rates for the high-lift project in 2003, he said. In just one year he watched his row-crop income drop from $30,000 to $15,000.

"We just couldn't make it on that," he said.

Instead, he made plans to till the wind.

Grover found developers who agreed to install 14 wind turbines on his property. With Idaho rated as 13th in the nation for wind, Grover predicted his share of the profit from the sale of electricity to Idaho Power would be between $25,000 and $45,000. And because Idaho is the third-fastest-growing state in the nation, it appeared to Grover there would be demand. The state is projected to use up current power supplies sometime between 2012 and 2015, and Idaho Power is planning to add 1,300 megawatts to its system over the next 20 years.

But again, Idaho Power complicated Grover's plans. Though the utility is required by federal law to purchase power from small projects such as Grover's, the company has asked the Idaho Public Utility Commission on occasions to put some requirements on wind farmers before the company pays for their power.

First, the company said that before purchasing the electricity it would have to determine the effects of wind power on its system. The PUC agreed to give Idaho Power time to do a study, which is nearing completion. But Grover appealed the decision and got a favorable answer. Idaho Power would have to honor the purchase agreements it had made with Grover and the other wind farmers from the Bell Rapids area prior to the beginning of the study. "I was grandfathered in," Grover said.

Then Idaho Power told Grover and his neighbors they would have to build the necessary substations and power lines to get their power to the utility's main transmission lines. They agreed. But when the company also said it wanted wind farmers to contribute up-front to the construction of an additional 100-mile transmission line from Twin Falls to Boise at a cost of roughly $60 million, Grover said no.

Grover's father-in-law, David Bloxham, on whose Bell Rapids property the first and only wind farm in south-central Idaho is located, said he thinks the company is deliberately throwing up roadblocks to block small developers.

With four more projects pending, Bloxham said, "They're holding us up until we can't afford to do it. The longer we have to wait, the more expensive everything becomes."

But Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said, "The issue is, there is a potential capacity constraint if everything came on line. We're asking them to pay a portion to increase the size."

Grover and Idaho Power representatives argued before the PUC Nov. 28, and Grover said he expects an answer by Christmas.

If this issue isn't resolved before January, the cost of the turbines will go up by $700,000, he said.

Julie Pence Freelance Writer
Waiting Game Vexes Idaho Wind Farmers
Capital Press, December 1, 2006

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