Idaho Power must sell ‘green’ credits

TUESDAY, MAY 26, 2009

Utility hoped to bank them, but customers protested

BOISE – After complaints by Idaho Power Co.’s largest customers, regulators have ordered the state’s biggest utility to sell about $2 million worth of renewable energy credits and use the money to benefit ratepayers, instead of retiring or banking the credits in expectation of new federal laws requiring more renewable energy generation.

The recent decision by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission reverses its Jan. 28 ruling to allow Idaho Power to hold on to the credits.

Idaho Power wanted to take the credits, known as “green tags,” off the market or bank them. That would have allowed the utility to publicly tout its commitment to renewable energy – or use the credits in the future to help meet new renewable energy standards. The U.S. Senate is considering legislation to require the country to generate up to 15 percent of its power from renewable resources, including wind and solar, by 2021.

But the Industrial Customers of Idaho Power, a group that includes the J.R. Simplot Co., argued the tags should be sold and the proceeds turned into savings for all Idaho Power customers.

The three-member commission found “no compelling evidence” that banking the tags would “lessen the company’s burden in meeting a future federal standard,” the panel wrote in its latest decision. “Unless and until the federal government establishes renewable energy standards and corresponding guidelines, we find the most prudent disposition of these Green Tags, at this time, is their sale.”

Contacted Friday, the utility declined to immediately comment.

“We have the commission’s order and we’re in the process of reviewing and digesting it,” said Stephanie McCurdy, a spokeswoman in Boise.

The credits consist of 320,000 megawatt hours of green tags generated in 2007 and 2008 from Idaho Power’s Elkhorn Wind project in Oregon and the Raft River geothermal plant near Malta in Southern Idaho.

If Idaho Power continues to sell green tags from the plants, it loses the right to claim any environmental attributes gained from those resources. Whoever buys and retires the credits would be able to claim that it bought renewable energy.

Idaho Power is under increasing scrutiny over how it generates power to serve more than 487,000 residential customers. In 2008, it generated 40 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants; 38 percent from dams; 1 percent from gas or diesel plants; and bought 21 percent of its electricity from others.

Last Thursday, 52 percent of shareholders backed a resolution at Idaho Power’s annual meeting, urging the utility to do more to bolster its renewable energy portfolio and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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