Here’s a guilty secret Idaho Power won’t be advertising for its 100th anniversary celebration. In 1974 Idaho Power proposed to build a massive coal-fired plant, the Pioneer, just 25 miles from Boise. The $400 million cost estimate soon skyrocketed to $828 million. Fortunately, despite ferocious debate about whether Idaho might “run out of power,” the Idaho Public Utility Commission wisely denied Idaho Power’s application. Otherwise, we would still be paying for a polluting, inefficient financial albatross.
Idaho Power is again predicting it might “run out of power” starting in 2026. The company has proposed building a 300-mile transmission line from Boardman, Ore., to Hemingway, Idaho to solve this problem. What if Idaho does start to run out of power? That’s a serious question. What if Idaho doesn’t need a new transmission line to provide that power? That’s an equally serious question, especially since the B2H was estimated to cost $1.2 billion 10 years ago. Hard to imagine what it would actually cost.
For a hundred years, utilities shuffled along with the same “business as usual” approach, but recently the utility business model has changed dramatically. Declining costs for solar arrays and storage batteries are in the news, and major utilities brag about their conservation and energy savings. Not Idaho Power. Even though lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 75 percent in 10 years and are predicted to be another 50 percent lower in the next six years, Idaho Power claims storage batteries will cost 1.2 percent more each year. This is typical of its magical thinking when it comes to justifying “need” for a monumentally expensive transmission line. Wind power, solar power, smart grids — all readily available sources of energy — are downplayed to justify constructing this new transmission line.
If it is built, the B2H will affect eastern Oregon ratepayers as well. The Oregon Public Utilities Commission started its evaluation of the Idaho Power plan last month. So far, over 100 pages of questions and requests for further analysis have been documented. Many focus on Idaho Power’s failure to acknowledge consumers’ conservation, and reluctance to reduce coal-fired power and to implement new technologies. Nationally, Oregon ranks 5th in energy efficiency. Idaho ranks 39th.
Why would a successful utility gamble on such an expensive project? Because it is guaranteed 6.7 percent profit on top of the share of the construction costs. But if the line is built when it isn’t really needed, every month, every year for 30 years, our energy bills will include payments on a technologically obsolete transmission line.
The Idaho Public Utility Commission is deliberating on the B2H. Its mission is to defend Idaho ratepayers from unnecessary rate hikes. Idaho Power must provide definitive proof that this exorbitant project is actually a “need,” not just a way to increase stockholders’ dividends. Let them hear from you about the B2H. Call 208-334-0300 or fax 208-334-3762, or write to them at P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074.
Judith N. Ouderkirk is an Idaho native who lives in Boise.