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Group of legislators suggests revisions to energy strategy

Idaho may soften efficiency, trip reduction incentives

BOISE – A panel of Idaho lawmakers has approved big changes to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan – changes that critics say will weaken the plan by loosening its requirements.

Gone from the plan are support for local-option taxes for transit, regional land-use planning designed to reduce trips, higher fuel efficiency in vehicles and tax incentives for renewable energy.

The panel also rejected calls to establish a consumer utility advocate’s office in Idaho and to offer new help to low-income ratepayers.

“It seemed like the utilities were definitely writing the agenda,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who serves on the joint legislative panel.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, the panel’s co-chairman, said, “It was a pretty intense exercise, but I think it was worthwhile.”

Eskridge said he was disappointed to see a proposal to broaden Idaho’s Strategic Energy Alliance board to include more than just utility representatives defeated on an 8-5 vote. “I think it does need some more general representation,” he said.

That board winnowed revisions to the 2007 energy plan proposed by subcommittees that worked on individual issues and reported back to the board. Much of the public testimony submitted to the legislative committee both in writing and at hearings backed recommendations from the subcommittees that were axed by the board.

Among them: The board recommended a wording change to make conservation and energy efficiency just “a” priority for utilities, rather than “the” priority.

Eskridge said he was glad the legislative panel, the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee, rejected that change on a 7-6 vote.

“We kept conservation the highest priority,” he said.

Jaquet said, “It’s the cheapest form of energy that we have. I think that’s important.”

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, was on the losing side in that vote. He said he believes meeting power needs is the top priority for utilities.

Anderson was in the majority on most of the other votes this week, including one to remove support for regional land-use planning that reduces trips.

“Who’s going to enforce that?” he asked. “I guess it’s a philosophical divide that some of us had. My concept is not to weaken that plan; my idea is to see that that plan is a workable document.”

Anderson also voted against a new consumer utility advocate, as did Eskridge; the proposal failed on an 8-4 vote.

“I think the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) is basically a product of the Legislature, and if we feel the PUC is inadequate to protect the consumers, then I guess the Legislature should come forward with ways of strengthening how they do that,” Anderson said.

Jaquet said she backed that proposal.

“The motion was just to explore it,” she said. “There’s not a voice for just the ratepayer.”

The revisions to the plan now will be finalized and submitted to the Idaho Legislature for possible adoption in its session that starts in January.

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