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Idaho Public Utilities Commission Sides With Idaho Power, Dramatically Reducing Terms of Solar Contracts



In a blow to environmentalists, alternative energy advocates and the dozens of Idahoans who testified in favor of longer contracts for solar energy producers, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission today granted a request from Idaho Power, PacifiCorp and Rocky Mountain Power to reduce the length of negotiated solar contracts from 20 to two years.

At a June 24 PUC hearing, not a single citizen testified in favor of Idaho Power's plan to dramatically limit its future contracts with solar energy providers. One-by-one, citizen witnesses stood before the commission to voice their opposition to the request.

"[Idaho Power] chooses to be on the wrong side of environmental health and the wrong side of history," said self-described alternative energy promoter Reed Burkholder.

"Our state is blessed with clean, renewable resources and we should embrace them," said Rebecca Bundy, senior planner at the city of Ketchum's Department of Planning and Building.

"The Public Utilities Commission and Idaho Power have an ethical responsibility to open all pathways to environmental renewables," said Ketchum artist Karen McCall.

"Idaho Power simply needs to work a little harder on this," said Pocatello-based engineer Brian Formusa. 

Earlier this year, Idaho Power embarked on a drive to push down the length of the contracts, which are required under the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) to add power from solar and other renewable energy sources to utility grids.

"We already have, under contract, 400 megawatts that will be coming in from new solar projects next year," Idaho Power attorney Donovan Walker told Boise Weekly in March. "Then on top of that, there's another 900 MWs from proposed contracts. To put that in perspective, that's larger than our entire Hells Canyon three-dam complex. It exceeds the total load on our system."

PUC commissioners wrote Aug. 20 that they agreed with Idaho Power, saying the previous 20-year contracts "resulted in utilities and, consequently, customers paying unreasonable costs for renewable generation."

The utilities will still be required to purchase from qualifying renewable developers, the PUC said, but with a shorter contract length. Commissioners added that the commission "has a long history of encouraging PURPA projects and renewable energy development in Idaho."