Idacorp CEO takes critics' questions

Discussing the utility's future, he welcomes direct queries about green energy and coal.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMay 16, 2014 

Idacorp President and CEO Darrel Anderson, right, speaks with Boise’s Tom Von Alten at the annual stockholders meeting Thursday in Boise.

ROCKY BARKER — rbarker@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Darrel Anderson didn't wait long to show that things have changed.

Anderson, who took over May 1 as Idacorp president and chief executive officer, mixed with the crowd of stockholders Thursday, many of whom want Idaho Power to use less coal and more renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs. After he presented his performance report, Anderson invited people to ask him questions directly instead of submitting them in writing, as retired CEO LaMont Keen had done in previous, tightly scripted meetings.

In 2013, a frustrated outburst from a stockholder prompted Idaho Power officials to escort him out. Protesters have demonstrated outside the meeting in recent years against Idaho Power's dependence on coal.

This year, the Sierra Club's Zack Waterman - his group was one of them protesting in 2013 - was one of the inside-the-meeting questioners. Other speakers praised Anderson and Idaho Power for its openness and for being a good corporate citizen.

Anderson shook hands with Reed Burkholder, a piano teacher, solar power advocate and longtime Idaho Power critic.

In response to a question from Waterman, Anderson said he was considering buying an electric car, at the insistence of his wife, Lori. He told another questioner that Idaho Power would be looking at solar options in its upcoming two-year resource planning process.

Anderson knows about solar power from a stint working for Applied Power, a company that manufacturers solar panels in Washington and was owned by Idacorp from 1996 to 2000.

Idaho Power's relationship with environmentalists has been stormy. The utility aggressively lobbied to kill incentives for alternative energy and fought with developers of wind and solar power before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The Snake River Alliance's representative got kicked off Idaho Power's Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Council when the group participated in protests outside a stockholders meeting.

On Thursday, however, Burkholder said he was pleasantly surprised with the tone of the meeting and with Anderson.

"He speaks of the future with knowledge," he said.

LOOKING AHEAD

Anderson told stockholders that he and the corporation have been preparing for "significant change" as the utility industry transitions from a coal-fired generation to a future in which information technology rapidly changes power demand and delivery.

But he assured them that Idacorp would continue to build on its sixth consecutive year of earnings growth.

Idaho Power is studying its options for the Valmy coal plant in northern Nevada that it owns in partnership with NV Energy, which has announced plans to phase out its coal plants. Anderson acknowledged that Valmy is its least efficient coal plant, but said Idaho Power wants to ensure that any shutdown does not cause a "rate shock."

"To turn that plant off tomorrow is not feasible," he said.

But he said he is looking at a combination of renewable power, energy efficiency and a new natural gas plant to make up for the 200 megawatts of baseload power - which can be turned on and off immediately - that Valmy provides.

Idaho Power's main coal plant, the Bridger generation plant in Wyoming, remains in the company's long-term plans because of its low cost, Anderson said. But he noted that the Obama administration will come out with new carbon dioxide emission standards for coal plants next month that could change things.

"There are no plans for the retirement of Bridger unless, policywise, it says we have to do something," Anderson said.

Idaho Power sees no need for new plants at least through 2018, he said, which is why it has asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to grant a temporary delay in signing contracts for the 500 megawatts of commercial solar power it could be forced to buy under federal law.

The company wants to wait until it finishes a study of the costs of integrating more intermittent wind and solar power, which it estimates could mean $150 million for its customers over 20 years. The company wants developers to pay those costs.

"We could roll over on the issue because it's all passed on to the customer, but no," he said.

Anderson invited renewable and energy efficiency advocates as well as people worried about climate change to help convince Oregon and Bureau of Land Management authorities to quickly approve its proposed 500-kilovolt power line across Southern Idaho. The transmission line would give Idaho Power access to surplus hydro and wind power west of the Cascades in the summer, which would reduce its carbon footprint.

"We wouldn't need to create new generation if we could get people to rally around that transmission project like they do other things," Anderson said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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