By KIKI TIDWELL
Brian Jackson, a scrappy, eternally optimistic engineer who believes that community wind projects can be built—projects that are good long term for ratepayers, good for the environment and good for the counties that receive property taxes—partnered with an Idaho farmer, Ben Bartlett, to build projects outside of Burley, Idaho, on the family’s scrubby piece of land where they can barely raise cattle in the harsh winter winds.
Unfortunately, the engineer and the farmer are up against a monopoly utility, Idaho Power, which has spent the last 10 years doing everything in its power to kill wind projects—from lobbying for state wind energy moratoriums to public anti-wind energy campaigns. Idaho gets about half its power from coal plants. The acid rain from mercury and sulfur dioxide from these coal plants just happens to fall on other people’s kids and milk cows in the Pacific Northwest.
After working with Idaho Power diligently for five months in 2010 to draft an acceptable contract for it to purchase the power from these renewable energy projects (a Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act contract), Brian signed the contracts and handed them back to Idaho Power in its building’s lobby. Idaho Power sat on the signed power purchase contracts and refused to sign them until one day after the Idaho Public Utilities Commission deadline limiting wind projects, and then said it didn’t have to honor the contracts.
The problem for Idaho Power and the Idaho PUC is that this is not legal under federal PURPA laws. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently has initiated a federal court action against the Idaho PUC for its lack of enforcing PURPA in a similar case. The federal government created the PURPA laws in 1978 exactly to encourage small, renewable energy projects over dirty power plants. Brian, who used to work for Idaho Power, thought he could work with the company peaceably to resolve this. He has been shocked by its blatant disregard for federal law and “so-sue-us” attitude. This honest engineer still can’t believe that companies would operate this way.
This old-style utility would rather build coal plants because it’s easier to dispatch coal-generated energy than work with the intermittency of a renewal resource. We’ve come so far with technology—many countries and states have up to 20 percent of their energy coming from wind energy these days. Wind can be modeled, predicted and integrated as an energy source with software and with smart meters—meters that Idaho Power got federal funds to install all over Idaho. Coal leaves poisonous tailings ponds in communities and significantly contributes to carbon and pollutants in our air.
This is where you can come in. In this day and age of big companies disregarding the rules that the rest of us play by, be a part of saying this is not right. Join our indiegogo campaign, HYPERLINK "http://www.indiegogo.com/AmericanWindFarm?a=540090&i=emal" "_blank" www.indiegogo.com/AmericanWindFarm?a=540090&i=emal.
If you would like to comment to Idaho Power directly, dial HYPERLINK "tel:208-388-2200" "_blank" 208-388-2200 or HYPERLINK "tel:1-800-488-6151" "_blank" 800-488-6151 or write to Box 70, Boise, ID 83707, or email CEO LaMont Keen at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" "_blank" email@example.com.
Of course, Idaho Power could do the right thing too, and honor the signed contract that it received in its offices on Dec. 13, 2010.
Kiki Tidwell lives in Hailey.