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PUC ruling favors small renewable developers, but not big wind or solar projects

New rules governing small renewable energy projects in Idaho will likely make it tougher for wind and solar developers to succeed but will be helpful for new dairy digesters and small, canal-based hydroelectric projects, reports AP reporter John Miller. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission issued a 69-page decision today, establishing new ground rules for renewable power projects and regulated utilities under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA, a 34-year-old federal law meant to promote alternative resources.

Under the decision,Miller reports,  solar and wind projects must generate less than 100 kilowatts, on average, to qualify for federally mandated contracts. That limit makes it more difficult for new projects to get off the ground but is a victory for utilities like Idaho Power Co. that complained they've been overloaded with unwanted wind power. By contrast, the three-member panel stuck with 20-year power contracts — utilities wanted just five-year pacts — and awarded valuable environmental credits to small developers, over utilities' insistence they were the rightful owners. This will help developers including those seeking to produce power from dairy manure by making it easier for them to win financing; click below for Miller's full report.

Idaho energy tussle - utilities vs. wind developers - sends international ripples

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A fight over rules governing Idaho alternative energy is sending out international shockwaves, with a Greek construction company now saying utilities' demands to get out of their contractual obligations to buy power from wind farms are a threat to its business. Athens-based Terna GKA said Wednesday that curtailment will negatively affect its efforts to finance its soon-to-be-completed 138-megawatt Mountain Air facility near Mountain Home. Idaho Power Co. seeks permission from Idaho regulators to shut off wind farms like Terna's when they can get power more cheaply from other sources. With the matter unresolved, lenders are wary their money is at risk. Already, Boise's Exergy Development Group has suspended $323 million worth of projects. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been asked to intervene to protect wind companies from utilities' demands. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Renewables have rough ride in Idaho…

Despite high hopes, Idaho's renewable energy sector has had a rough ride, reports the Associated Press, with major projects that the state enthusiastically touted ending up mothballed or killed, from Hoku Corp.'s $400 million Pocatello solar polysilicon plant to Micron Technology's solar energy venture, Transform Solar. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Big PUC hearings next week to focus on future of renewables in Idaho

Big hearings at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission next week are expected to attract a crowd of lawyers, utility executives and environmentalists, the AP reports, as the PUC weighs how to set the course for Idaho's renewable energy industry for years to come. "These issues have been going on since 2005," said Gene Fadness, PUC spokesman. Commissioners "are more than ready to have all the parties come to some sort of agreement."

Among the points of dispute: How to set the price utilities must pay renewables developers for their power; whether utilities can refuse to buy power from alternative projects when relatively few people are using electricity; and who has the rights to lucrative environmental credits that accompany renewable energy projects - the utilities or the renewables developers. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

PUC loosens requirements for phone companies to fix land-line outages

Idaho phone companies won't have to fix outages to land-line phone service within 24 hours any more, nor will they have to give credits to customers when they don't meet the new standard, which is doubled to 48 hours, under new rules approved Tuesday by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The PUC approved the changes on a 2-1 vote. Those opposed to the changes still have until July 24 to ask the panel for reconsideration; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho easing rules requiring quick fixes of land-line phone outages

Idaho's land-line phone providers would no longer have to fix outages within 24 hours or be forced to give customers a month's service credit, under a rule change pending at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The Idaho AARP is decrying the change as a prime example of why Idaho needs a consumer advocate in its utility regulating process; Idaho is the only state in the west without one. "Had we not had a volunteer of ours bring it to our attention, we would have completely missed it, as have, I believe, the majority of Idaho consumers," said AARP spokesman David Irwin.

AARP submitted comments protesting the rule change on May 31, the final day of a public comment period, more than a month after the IPUC had convened settlement talks with telephone companies and drafted the rule change. It was prompted by an application from CenturyLink, the state's largest land-line telephone provider, and several related companies, for an exemption from the rule, which the company argued is obsolete. Washington has a somewhat similar 48-hour rule; there's no move on in that state to change it. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Avista Extravagance Cited

Cruises on Lake Coeur d’Alene and “extravagantly catered” meals are among the reasons staff of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission is suggesting Avista shift half of the $1.2 million annually it spends for its board of directors from ratepayers to shareholders. The recommendation is contained within almost 300 pages of testimony filed recently by IPUC staff suggesting how Avista could trim its proposed increases in electrical and gas rates. … “Some board members fly to board meetings via first class and receive limousine transportation from the airport. Also board retreats consisted of extravagantly catered lunches and dinners along with cruises on Lake Coeur d’Alene,” according to (Donn English, senior IPUC auditor)testimony/Elaine Williams, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Does Avista do all that it can to cut expenses that it passes along to consumers?