Library filed under Energy Policy from Idaho
SALT LAKE CITY — Rocky Mountain Power unveiled a 20-year plan today to provide electricity to its customers that includes adding more solar and wind and making existing wind turbines more efficient. The $3.5 billion plan also incorporates building a segment of the Gateway West transmission line to facilitate the wind expansion.
Paul Kjellander, president of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, said his state’s biggest concern is developers disaggregating large wind projects into smaller units in order to obtain the most favorable avoided cost rates for qualifying facilities. Kjellander referred to the practice as “gaming” the system.
FERC claims the PUC violated the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act when it held that Idaho Power was not obligated to buy from a number of wind generators because the utility did not sign the QF contracts prior to December 14, 2010, which was when the QF qualification threshold dropped to 100 kW from 10 MW.
Under the new rules, the cap for wind and solar projects seeking the PUC's published avoided-cost rates is 100 kW. The eligibility cap for all other QFs remains 10 MW. Wind and solar projects larger than 100 kW are eligible for a negotiated avoided-cost rate using each utility's long-range growth plan as the basis for the negotiation.
The three-member commission that regulates the state's three monopoly electric utilities denied Idaho Power's request to curtail existing wind power plants during low demand except in emergencies ...But it also limited the size of wind and solar plants eligible for a simple published power price to only 100 kilowatts, forcing larger developers to negotiate with utilities on rates and credits.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will seek to enforce an earlier order against the Idaho Public Utilities Commission over wind power projects near Murphy. The federal commission oversees electric and natural gas delivery policy. Its ruling says the Idaho commission violated federal law when it denied an appeal by developers for three Murphy Flat wind power projects.
Idaho Power and other utilities have been scuffling with wind farms over whether utilities can curtail contractually-required purchases at times when few customers need electricity.
A federal energy decision raises more questions about whether the utility has the power to shut off existing wind plants even if it saves customers money. Idaho Power officials say they are preparing to appeal a federal ruling that challenges company efforts to shut down wind farms during periods of low demand.
Idaho Power Attorney Donovan Walker called on the PUC to be "courageous" and restructure Idaho's entire system for carrying out PURPA. The utility also wants the commission to shorten the length of PURPA contracts, from 20 years to five.
Idaho Power is asking the commission to approve a policy for managing power from wind projects beyond emergencies. It says it's necessary to manage its system in periods of light demand. The
Given the fact that, in 2012, Idahoans are on the hook to pay $65 per megawatt-hour for wind power under those non-negotiated rates, when they could be paying $24 for power on the open market, that's a logical conclusion. We live in a region with reliable, relatively clean, inexpensive hydro power that last year accounted for 63 percent of Idaho Power's output.
Simpson says the wind energy issue demands a full explanation. "I really think it's important that we have the discussion with the public, be it the taxpayers, the ratepayers and the land owners. And certainly we have to involve the investor-owned utilities, which are choking on expensive, unreliable wind energy due to a federal statute."
Andrus also believes the main problem is the control of the market. “I think the solution is to do away with the incentives and let the free market take care of itself. We’ve encouraged these people to come to Idaho offering these incentives. Getting rid of the incentives is the answer,” he said.
Christensen's criticism of Idaho wind energy farms doesn't stop with billboards. Her group is also throwing its support behind a bill that would place a moratorium on all future Idaho wind projects for the next two years.
After more than three hours of testimony Wednesday, the House Local Government Committee approved the measure on a 6-5 vote. The bill would also require lawmakers to undertake a two-year study of the wind power industry's overall impact in the state.
Idaho House Bill 527 would restrict local, county and state agencies from approving or issuing new licenses or permits for wind turbine construction or operation. Those turbines being targeted are those that exceed 100-feet high or produce more than 100-kilowatts of electricity.
The Bureau of Land Management wants local people's opinions on how to make itself more competitive when it comes to solar and wind energy projects. The BLM has started a 60-day comment period to figure out how to create a competitive bidding system for those projects.
Simpson, who serves on the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, says wind energy isn't a fiscally responsible source of power, as it cannot be produced 100 percent of the time.
What ultimately happens to the wind projects remains to be seen, but the Idaho commission and staff are trying to be fair to developers and ratepayers, said Ben Otto, an energy analyst for the Idaho Conservation League. "I think what I've seen is they're really worried about customers paying too much," he said.
Currently, the state commission is trying to figure out how best to determine just how much solar developers should be paid by utilities for their electricity. That's to the chagrin of at least one developer, Interconnect Solar of Boise, which fears a delay ordered last week so the state could get a handle on things could doom its project.