Letters from the West

Anderson kicks off new era at Idaho Power with openness

Idacorp President and Chief Executive Officer Darrel Anderson didn't wait for the annual stockholders meeting to start Thursday to show that things have changed.

Anderson, who took over May 1 as the top executive of the parent company of Idaho Power, mixed with the crowd of stockholders, many who want more renewable energy, less coal and energy efficiency programs. When the business was completed and he had presented his performance report, he invited people to ask him questions directly instead of in written form as retired CEO LaMont Keen had done in previous tightly-scripted meetings.

Instead of the frustrated outburst from a stockholder in 2013, speakers praised Anderson and Idaho Power for being a good corporate citizen and for the company's new openness. There were no protesters demonstrating outside because Anderson invited them inside if they were stockholders.

He shook hands with Reed Burkholder, a piano teacher, solar power advocate and long-time Idaho Power critic.

Anderson said he was considering buying an electric car at the insistence of his wife, Lori. He also suggested Idaho Power would be closely looking at solar options in its next two-year resource planning process, which begins soon.

Anderson knows about solar power from a stint working for Applied Power, a company that manufacturers solar panels in Washington, which was owned by Idacorp from 1996 to 2000. All of this pleasantly surprised Burkholder.

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

Anderson told stockholders he and the corporation were preparing for "significant change" as the utility industry goes through a major transition, away from coal-fired generation and into a future where information technology rapidly changes power demand and delivery. But he assured them Idacorp would continue to build on its sixth consecutive year of earnings growth.

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

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

But he is looking at a combination of renewable power, energy efficiency and a new natural gas generation plant to make up for the 200 megawatts of base load power Valmy provides - and which the coal plant can turn on immediately.

Idaho Power's main coal plant, the Bridger generation plant in Wyoming, remains in its long-term plans because of its low cost, second only to the company's hydroelectric resources. But Anderson noted 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 policy-wise it says we have to do something," Anderson said.

Idaho Power currently sees no need for new generation 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.

It wants to wait until it finishes a study of the costs of integrating so much more intermittent power into its grid, a cost it estimates could tally $150 million to customers over 20 years. It wants developers to pay that cost instead.

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

Anderson also invited renewable and energy efficiency advocates and people worried about climate change to help convince Oregon and Bureau of Land Management authorities to quickly approve Idaho Power's 500 kilovolt power line from its Hemingway station near Melba to Boardman, Ore. The transmission line would give it 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.