Customers at hearing reject Idaho Power coal plant upgrade

rbarker@idahostatesman.comNovember 26, 2013 

Customers raise their hands at an Idaho Public Utilities Commission hearing saying they share concerns about Idaho Power’s proposed coal plant upgrade in this photo provided by the Sierra Club — one of the critics of the upgrade.

PROVIDED BY THE SIERRA CLUB

Idaho Power customers filled the Idaho Public Utilities Commission’s hearing room Monday to tell regulators they don’t want ratepayers to pay for upgrading a Wyoming coal plant.

More than 100 people packed the small PUC hearing room to testify on Idaho Power’s request for ratepayers to pay for $130 million in pollution-control equipment for the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant near Rock Springs, Wyo., to meet state and federal rules and a deadline two years away.

“We had people standing in the hallway and sitting on the floor,” said PUC spokesman Gene Fadness.

All 26 people who testified raised concerns with the proposal — which Lisa Grow, Idaho Power senior vice president of power supply, said in the Idaho Statesman was necessary or the utility would have to spend far more to build gas plants to replace the power.

Critics like the Idaho Conservation League’s Ben Otto say Idaho Power has enough surplus of power through 2024 to replace the coal with other options including energy efficiency, demand response programs and renewable energy.

“In short we do not believe the risks to ratepayers have been properly accounted for, and we are deeply concerned about the environmental and public health consequences of Idaho Power’s continued reliance on coal fired electricity generation,” said Zack Waterman, director of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Waterman then asked the commission if he could ask the audience for a show of hands if they share his concerns.

“Let it be noted in the public record that nearly everyone raised their hands,” said PUC Commissioner Marsha Smith, who chaired the meeting.

So far the commission has received 200 written comments and nearly all opposed putting the upgrades on the ratepayers, Fadness said. Only a few industrial and business groups and local officials supported the company.

“We said all along we wanted to initiate a discussion about how we move forward,” said Brad Bowlin, an Idaho Power spokesman. “I think last night is evidence that’s taking place.”

The Commission is expected to rule on the proposal soon.

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