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Posts tagged: renewable energy credits

Co-op’s landfill gas power plant lands in middle of utility energy credit fight

Methane gas that long has formed deep within the rotting garbage at Kootenai County's Fighting Creek Landfill is going to a new use today: It's generating enough electricity to power 1,800 homes. The county and the non-profit Kootenai Electric Cooperative flipped the switch on their joint venture last month, launching a new clean, renewable, local power source that has officials beaming with pride.
    
“It's going to generate revenue for the county, and it's so good for the environment,” said Kootenai County solid waste director Roger Saterfiel. “We were just burning the gas off. … It's being put to a use now.”

But in the larger world of energy politics, the project has landed KEC in the middle of a big-bucks fight between Idaho's largest utilities and small generators of renewable power that's threatening a key piece of the new plant's long-term financial plan.     At issue are renewable energy credits, also called “green tags,” which have great value in states where utilities must generate a significant and growing percentage of their power from renewable energy. Idaho isn't among those states - Washington is - but the credits can be sold on the open market, potentially for millions.

Idaho's three largest utilities - Avista Corp., Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power - introduced legislation this year declaring that when a utility buys power from a renewable generator, it gets the credits too. The bill didn't pass, but it set off a fiery debate that's now playing out in a pending case at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which has approved some contracts in recent years in which utilities and generators split the credits.

KEC's already given half the credits from its new 3.2 MW plant to the county, under its contract, and is counting on the other half for its own money-making purposes. Now the cooperative is trying to sign a deal to send the landfill power to Oregon - where state law says the generator gets to keep the renewable energy credits; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Energy plan hearing prompts debate over sales of ‘green tags’ from renewables

The Legislature's Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee has opened its hearing this morning on proposed revisions to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan. First up to testify was Annie Black, a Boise resident and former manager of the green power program at Idaho Power Co., who said Idaho's current PUC policies require utilities to sell their Renewable Energy Credits, or “green tags,” when they purchase or generate renewable power from sources like wind or geothermal. Those RECs are generally sold out of state, allowing customers there to claim the environmental benefits of that renewable power production.

“Yes, we are generating that wind in Idaho … but we're not delivering that same wind profile” to power customers in Idaho, Black said. “Credits are very desirable if you live in California and have renewable portfolio standards,” she said. “The commission has said that the renewable energy credit is not something that customers need and want. … I know there are a lot of customers that do want to be able to count some small component of what comes to their home.”

One of the three “pillars” cited in the proposed revisions to the energy plan is to enhance Idaho's collective “energy IQ,” Black said. In line with that, she said, Idahoans should be fully informed that the environmental benefits from renewable power generated in Idaho aren't actually coming to their homes; they're being sold elsewhere.

Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Curtis McKenzie said that may just confuse consumers. Under the current system, he said, “It's keeping my costs down as a ratepayer and encouraging the production of renewable energy … in the state.” Black said, however, that since the environmental benefits are sold elsewhere, consumers are being misled when they see charts showing how much renewable power is generated in the state and assume they benefit from that. “It could be the right thing for the ratepayer and the state, what we're doing,” she said, “but don't assume that the wind energy that comes to your door comes with the right to pat yourself on the back, that you're somehow … polluting less,” when that environmental benefit is actually being sold to offset higher-polluting power production elsewhere.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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