The Idaho Public Utilities Commission said this week the $26 million Idaho Power invested in energy efficiency in 2013 meets its test for charging its ratepayers.
But the PUC withheld judgement on the claim by its own staff, the Idaho Conservation League and the Industrial Customers of Idaho Power that the utility’s commitment to demand response programs, which shift use to non-peak times of the day, “seems to be waning.”
This decision doesn’t increase rates since energy efficiency and demand response are paid for through an existing 4 percent rider on customer bills. But it leaves up in the air how the PUC feels about the direction of demand response in the utility’s future mix.
Utilities are struggling to make the transition from traditional sources of electricity like coal and gas fired plants and hydroelectricity to intermittent sources like wind and solar. Now, Idaho Power needs another power source ready to immediately come on when the wind stops blowing or the sun goes behind a cloud.
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But eventually, it could have enough contracts with customers that allow it to adjust thermostats or other digital switches to increase or reduce power use on demand. PUC staff, the ICL and the Industrial customers said Idaho Power does not do enough to market the programs to customers.
Idaho Power’s 18 energy efficiency programs and educational initiatives and demand response program reductions dropped from170,220 Megawatt-hours in energy efficiency savings and 438 MW in demand response in 2012 to 107,284 megawatt-hours savings and 48-megawatt reduction in demand in 2013.
Idaho Power said part of that is attributable to third-party evaluators’ more stringent methods of measuring the programs to determine their effectiveness and due to the one-year suspension of two demand-response programs. Further, the company notes, customer participation is up even though actual energy savings are down.
“The commission is cognizant of the recent decline in energy savings ... and notes that Idaho Power issues a strong rebuttal of these claims, offering several reasons to explain the recent decline in its DSM expenditures and a defense of its marketing efforts,” the commission said. “We are encouraged that the reply comments seem to demonstrate the company’s renewed interest in procuring all cost-effective DSM.”
But it also said it: agrees that the issues raised by Staff and other parties are significant and warrant a more in-depth review. We direct the parties to do so in the context of the Company's next Integrated Resource Plan filing."