Idaho Power will invest in coal, for now

The utility company concludes that coal is the cheapest and most reliable sources of energy after hydropower.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMay 17, 2013 

idaho power, boise, protest, sierra club

Boise residents (L-R) James Blakely, Bill Foxcroft, and Jordan Orien protest in favor of solar energy at Idaho Power's annual shareholders meeting Thursday at the company's downtown Boise headquarters.


Idacorp CEO LaMont Keen said Thursday that Idaho Power Co. will continue to rely on coal plants in Wyoming and Nevada, but revisit that decision in its next two-year planning process.

Keen told the 10 stockholders who attended the annual meeting that Idaho Power will ask the Idaho Public Utilities Commission later this year to approve its decision to spend millions on required pollution-control upgrades on the Jim Bridger plants in Wyoming.

Idaho Power had a contractor analyze the economics of upgrading the coal plants against the cost of building a cleaner gas-fired plant. Idaho Power spent nearly $400 million to build its Langley Gulch gas plant near Fruitland.

"Without these coal plants, the air conditioners won't be on and the pumps won't be lifting the water onto the crops," Keen said in response to the stockholders' questions.

Keen said Idaho Power has raised its 2015 objective for cutting carbon dioxide emissions to 15 percent. Idaho Power set that goal in 2009 after a majority of stockholders urged the utility to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Idaho Power decided to invest up to $500 million in pollution-control equipment for three coal plants in Wyoming and two in Nevada. Idaho Power doesn't operate the plants, but is a one-third owner of the Jim Bridger plants near Rock Springs, Wyo., and half-owner of two plants near Valmy.

A questioner asked about Keen's response to a decision in April by Oregon's PUC to disallow $40,000 - 10 percent of a $400,00 portion of the investment in the Bridger upgrade - because of "management failures." The Oregon commission did conclude that the investment was prudent, but chastised Idaho Power for accepting PacifiCorp's analysis rather than doing the analysis itself.

"We disagreed," Keen said, describing the action as a "$40,000 haircut" and a "lesson learned."

Costs for operating coal plants are expected to rise. President Barack Obama said in his second inaugural address that he would use the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act - upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court - to reduce the carbon emissions that the plants can produce.

The coal plants Idaho Power uses also have to upgrade environmental controls on pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and fly ash. The investor-owned utility that serves nearly 500,000 customers across Idaho and eastern Oregon depends on coal for 40 percent of its power.

Already, the coal plant in Boardman, Ore., that Idaho Power owns with Portland General Electric is scheduled to shut down in 2020. The low price of natural gas has prompted many utilities to close coal plants instead of spending millions on upgrades and pollution controls - costs that are passed directly to customers.

Ten people from the Sierra Club demonstrated outside of Idaho Power's headquarters Thursday, urging the company to dump its coal to help customers invest in rooftop solar power.

One stockholder disrupted the meeting, saying Idaho Power misled stockholders about its planning discussions on solar.

Keen criticized people who bought stock just to ask questions or disrupt the stockholder meeting. He pointed to five years of growth by the company.

"This should be a celebration for Idacorp," Keen said.

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Darrel Anderson said Idacorp expects to continue the growth trend in part because Idaho's economy is growing, adding new customers and increasing power demand.

"Our outlook is positive, even as we experienced a dry winter and a dry spring," Anderson said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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