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While I risk upsetting people in the building industry,  I support recent legislation by Rep. John “Bert” Stevenson, R-Rupert, intended to charge new homes and businesses a fee for electrical system expansion.

The development industry will likely oppose this measure, but it would be shortsighted of them to do so. Idaho Power is in a near-continuous state of asking the PUC for rate increases, in part to extend power lines and build more power plants.  This isn’t fair to existing customers and it reduces opportunities for new businesses that want to set up here. Idaho Power can’t raise its rates enough to effectively deliver power, so our region has to turn away prospective industries because we can’t supply them with electricity. Existing residents are asked to pay for newcomers. The system doesn’t serve anyone very well.

A better system (what I understand Stevenson is proposing) would be  similar to how cities charge for sewer hookups. Your monthly sewer bill is strictly for maintenance and operation – none of it goes for capacity expansion. When a new home hooks up to Boise City’s sewer system, though, the developer must pay $3,150, which goes into a fund for future treatment plant expansions and new lines. That keeps the city from charging existing customers for growth, yet growth can happen because the city can fund it.

Imagine if, in the Fall of 2007, two major employers could have relocated here, because Idaho Power had a chest of money collected from impact fees and specifically set aside for new growth. Idaho Power would have been in a much better position to step forward with a plan to accommodate the new industries. The same building industry that might oppose these fees would profit greatly from the new homes and businesses that would result.

The Public Utilities Commission said Stevenson’s measure could help utilities recover costs of some growth-related capital expansion, though existing customers should bear some of the increases when facilities are expanded. That’s fair enough. The Ada County Highway District’s impact fees, first levied in 1992, aren’t intended to cover the complete costs of growth.

Who’d a thunk it – a company that makes solar panels is facing production problems because it can’t get enough electricity, according to the Idaho Business Review.

Pocatello is looking forward to Hoku Materials’ $390 million polysilicon plant to bring jobs, boost the tax base and spin off other companies.

The problem is that, once again, Idaho Power can’t ante up electricity, putting Hoku in a bind because it needs about as much energy as Micron (around 80 megawatts).

“Those sized customers come along seldom for us,” Ric Gale, Idaho Power’s vice president of regulatory affairs, told the IBR. “So they created some challenges.”

These sized customers come around every few years, actually. The Statesman reported that two large prospective employers in 2007 said no to the Treasure Valley and took with them more than 2,000 potential jobs, mainly because Idaho Power couldn’t supply power.

Idaho Power is looking at buying electricity out-of-state, but still has no plans for an in-state base load generation plant, instead hoping other producers can come up with 300 megawatts. To its credit, IP is also working on adding transmission capacity, which is in very short supply. Several wind and geothermal projects have gone up in Idaho recently, but that power is heading out-of-state.

Disclosure: one of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. , which is proposing to build a large advanced nuclear reactor in Elmore County. I’m sure AEHI would be happy to sell affordable power for Idaho industries and we look forward to meeting that demand.