Friday, May 9, 2008

Idaho Power plan is already outdated

Kiki Tidwell is a resident of Hailey.


Let's not implement a 30-year electrical plan for Blaine County that is already outdated before we start.

Idaho Power recently presented its preferred plan, and the first thing the company wants to do is put a new set of transmission lines on the west side of Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum. Times and technology have changed since the 1950s, when stringing more transmission from central plants was the norm. No longer is it easy to build a power plant with a cheap fuel source. Coal-fired plant plans have been scrapped all over the United States due to public outcry on environmental concerns and anticipated national restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

Federal relicensing costs for existing hydro plants and low-water years have caused Idaho Power to file a rate increase request this year, one of four rate requests for 2008 filed already. One of the other rate requests was a "power-cost adjustment," which occurs when Idaho Power does not produce enough power through its existing plants and must buy power on the open power market. It is then at the mercy of market pricing at peak times. The company is building a new natural gas peak-demand plant.

However, recently built natural gas pipelines will siphon our traditionally landlocked and cheap supply to California, Phoenix and the Midwest. Idaho Power recently said at an Idaho Public Utilities Commission workshop that it anticipates power-cost adjustments of up to $33 million per year in the years to come. Get ready for significant power increases for the future.

A key assumption of Idaho Power's Wood River Electrical Plan holds the clue for a solution to rising power costs in Blaine County and Idaho: "When the valley has reached population saturation, it will require three times as much power as it uses today." California has proven that this assumption does not have to become true. Energy-efficiency programs have helped to keep per-capita electricity consumption in California flat over the past 30 years, while the rest of the United States' per-capita consumption has almost doubled. Less power demand at peak times translates to lower power costs for us all. The Idaho PUC on its Web site states that "conserving as little as 5 percent at peak times could result in power-market price reductions of 25 percent to 50 percent."

At this critical juncture, it is imperative that Blaine County demand that time-of-use pricing—which rewards customers not to use power during peak times—and a smart grid be implemented as a first priority. Smart meters could turn down thermostats by 5 degrees for periods of time in the winter in hundreds of empty homes where nobody would notice.

Washing machines could be loaded in the morning and then turn on when the wind is blowing at the wind farms in the afternoon, since the advanced metering infrastructure system would be communicating with the home meter and smart appliances. More wind farms could be built, with their intermittent power firmed by demand response.

The municipalities in Blaine County would not have to raise taxes as much on their citizens to cover significant increases in electric costs of water and sewer systems and street lighting. It is my understanding that Blaine County is slated to be one of the last areas in the state where any advanced metering infrastructure would be rolled out.

Let Blaine County lead in contributing to lower energy costs in Idaho by implementing a smart grid as the No. 1 step of any plan. And let's bury the transmission lines.

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