Friday, February 12, 2010

Renewables: Idaho Power plans a swift shift

Company’s 20-year plan outlines additions of geothermal, natural gas and wind


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Longtime power supplier Idaho Power, born in 1916 when five companies combined assets, is planning a swift shift in electricity production over the next 20 years, relying more on renewables and potentially turning away from coal. Photo by David N. Seelig

Idaho Power expects its number of customers to increase by 40 percent over the next two decades—from 486,000 to 680,000—but doesn't plan to build coal plants for meeting that demand.

Wind, geothermal plants, and natural gas-fired plants are planned to add 3,000 megawatts of capacity over the next 20 years.

The company's 20-year Integrated Resource Plan outlines the changes and is updated every two years. The plan—submitted to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission—also shows three options for coal production during the plan's time: maintain current coal production levels, partially curtail it or cut out coal altogether. Increased coal burning isn't an option.

Mike Youngblood, manager of rate design, pricing and regulatory services, said coal plants currently supply about 45 percent of Idaho Power's electricity every year. He said the company will be shying away from coal in anticipation of legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

In September, Idaho Power's board of directors approved establishing guidelines for reducing CO2 emissions.

Mark Stokes, manager of power supply planning, was part of the group that put together the plan. He said it is split into 10-year halves because technology advancements—such as carbon sequestration and electric cars—could drastically change what's implemented during the second 10 years.

But many eco-friendly forms of energy production will be started from the get-go.

A 300-MW natural gas plant now under construction near New Plymouth will come on line in 2012, as will 15 MW of wind generation and a geothermal plant contracted by Idaho Power to supply 20 MW over 20 years. Another geothermal plant contracted by the utility to supply 20 MW over 20 years is scheduled to come on line in 2016. An upgrade to the Shoshone Falls hydroelectric facility will make another 20 MW available by 2015.

But there is a drawback to these innovative forms of electricity production—they're much more expensive than hydroelectric and coal, which currently supply about 75 percent of Idaho Power's electricity.

Idaho Power owns and operates 17 hydroelectric projects, two natural gas plants and one diesel-powered generator. It shares ownership of three coal-fired facilities.

While hydroelectric costs $13 per MW hours and coal $33, adding geothermal and natural gas would each cost $107 per MWh. And wind would cost $80 per MWh.

Relying more on these expensive resources means customers' rates will increase. Stokes said that would likely influence customers to reduce their electricity use.

"Use per customer would decrease despite more customers," he predicted.

And Idaho Power is already encouraging its customers to lower their electricity use through incentives.

"This is about the only industry where we encourage customers to use less of our product," Youngblood said.

Less electricity used means Idaho Power can wait longer before constructing more plants, something Youngblood said the company wants to stave off.

A group of Idaho Power's leaders have been travelling the company's coverage area—southern Idaho and eastern Oregon—to hold public meetings on the 20-year plan. The closest site to the Wood River Valley is Twin Falls, where a meeting was held Wednesday.

The 20-year plan can be seen at idahopower.com by clicking on the "About Us" tab and scrolling down to "Our Plan." Then, click on "Integrated Resource Plan" on the left side of the screen.

The Public Utilities Commission is accepting comments through April 15. Go to puc.idaho.gov and click on "Forms" and then "Comment Form." The case number is IPC-E-09-33.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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