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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho Power cuts coal by 2028 in plan to state regulators

Employee Michael Kurian works in July 2015 at Idaho Power Company’s Langley Gulch Power Plant in New Plymouth, Idaho. Idaho Power has submitted a 20-year plan to state regulators that phases out coal-fired power plants by 2028 as part of an effort to provide only clean energy by 2045.  (Keith Ridler)
By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho Power has submitted a 20-year plan to state regulators that phases out coal-fired power plants by 2028 as part of its effort to provide only clean energy by 2045, the company said Tuesday.

Idaho Power in a news release said its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan submitted to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission moves the company away from coal and toward renewable energy, battery storage, energy efficiency and additional power that will come with the completion of a transmission line connecting to the Pacific Northwest.

The 214-page document spells out how the company will meet energy demands in a 24,000-square-mile area in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon as its number of customers grows to nearly 850,000 from 600,000 by 2040.

Idaho Power is allowed to operate as a state-regulated monopoly in exchange for producing a reliable and affordable supply of energy to the region. The 20-year plan, updated and submitted every two years, tells state regulators how it intends to meet those responsibilities while balancing costs and risks.

The latest plan comes as Idaho Power sees an a surge in customers and demand for power, with the company noting it reached an energy demand record on June 30 with a peak-hour load of 3,751 megawatts. A megawatt is the amount of energy needed to power about 770 average-sized homes in Idaho Power’s service area, the company says.

“This plan is a major step toward ensuring we can continue serving our customers with the reliable, affordable energy they need while moving toward our goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2045,” Mitch Colburn, vice president of planning, engineering and construction, said in a statement.

The company’s latest plan, which was also submitted to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, cuts coal two years earlier than the plan it submitted in 2019. The company notes that the new plan also differs by including significant amounts of clean energy resources with 700 megawatts of wind, 1,405 megawatts of solar and 1,685 megawatts of battery storage. The 2019 plan included no wind resources, about two-thirds less solar and only a small fraction of battery storage.

The company also added a new chapter on climate change to the report, examining a variety of threats.

“In Idaho Power’s service area, climate-related risks are evaluated in light of potential for storm severity, lightning, droughts, heat waves, fires, floods, and snow loading,” the reports states.

The climate-change section also addresses the company’s goal of supplying only clean energy, noting the company’s “existing backbone of hydropower” is a key element in that strategy.

The company has 17 hydroelectric facilities on the Snake River and its tributaries, with the Hells Canyon Complex on the Snake River providing about 70% of the company’s hydroelectric generating capacity and 30% of the company’s total generating capacity.

The company’s coal power comes from the Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming, and the Valmy Power Plant near Valmy, Wyoming. Idaho Power’s plan includes converting two units at the Bridger plant from coal to natural gas by summer 2024, and exiting from a third Bridger coal unit by year-end 2025 and another coal unit by 2028. It would also exit from a coal unit at Valmy in 2025.

Overall, the company’s energy mix in 2020 was 41.7% hydro, 20.9% coal, 11.9% natural gas, 11.1% wind, 4.1% solar and 2.9% geothermal, biomass and other sources. Additionally, 7.4% came from energy market purchases.

The new plan also factors in completing in 2026 a powerline from the company’s Hemingway Substation southwest of Boise, Idaho, to Boardman, Oregon, an energy hub. The 500-kilovolt line would increase energy exchanging capacity between the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. Idaho Power would own 45% of the project.

Regulators next week will issue a notice of the plan’s filing, opening up a public comment period and an opportunity for Idaho Power to reply to those comments, said Adam Rush, Idaho Public Utilities Commission spokesperson. The commission after that process will issue a formal acknowledgement noting the company has met its regulatory obligation to submit the plan.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, Idaho’s average electricity price in 2019 ranked it among the lowest five states. The agency attributed that to relatively inexpensive hydropower that accounted for 56% of the state’s electricity generation that year. Nationally, only about 7% of U.S. energy use comes from hydroelectric facilities.