As part of the Idaho Conservation League’s Climate Team, Energy Associate Ben Otto focuses much of his work on moving our state forward to a carbon-neutral future by navigating Idaho utilities’ Integrated Resource Plans (IRP) and helping turn them into “Clean Energy Plans.”
This means he works methodically and collaboratively with utility companies and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to highlight the benefits of energy conservation and advocate for utilities’ moving away from fossil-fueled electricity and toward clean, affordable, and reliable options, such as solar, geothermal, and wind.
Ben joined ICL in 2010 to help find a way, despite the state’s conservative politics, to reduce climate pollution and protect Idaho’s air quality and public health. During his first few days, Ben and the Climate Team recognized the opportunities that existed in engaging directly with Idaho Power during its IRP process because, as the largest provider of energy in the state, the utility has the ability to play a prominent role in cleaning up the state’s electric grid.
As part of this decades-long process that is still evolving, ICL initially pushed for helping Idahoans conserve energy through incentives by Idaho Power to promote efficiency. Then, building on the theme of energy conservation, Ben worked on establishing fair accounting for fossil fuel impacts to understand the true costs of climate pollution (for instance, on public health and the environment) vs. clean energy options.
ICL’s Climate Team also worked with consumer groups to analyze various scenarios to balance Idaho Power’s needs with those of its customers. The result was a “Sun and Steam” idea whereby Idaho Power could build solar power plants and also help industrial customers take excess steam heat and convert it to electricity. By thinking creatively, this collaboration allowed an efficient way to meet Idaho Power’s needs and allow it to partner with customers on clean energy solutions.
During the next round of planning, ICL worked with experts in Boise State University’s engineering department to encourage Idaho Power to analyze how a coal-fired power plant closure could affect available power costs. While this initial analysis showed that removing coal was expensive, it also showed that it was possible while keeping the power system reliable. This was a major paradigm shift. Never before had an Idaho utility plan considered removing coal plants.
ICL’s work with BSU set the next stage for a fact-based analysis of consequences and opportunities from replacing coal with clean energy. The Climate Team emphasized keeping customer energy bills affordable and continued to cultivate relationships with regulators and unlikely allies in the industry. This essential step led to Idaho Power concluding that closing the North Valmy coal-fired power plant in Nevada decades earlier than originally scheduled would reduce climate pollution and save customers money.
By 2017, ICL’s climate campaign gained momentum by continuing to focus on utility-specific plans, building broad-based stakeholder support, and emphasizing local clean energy opportunities. Idaho Power’s 2017 plan included its exit from the massive Bridger coal-fired plant in Wyoming, demonstrating that the utility calculated that the best option for Idahoans’ energy is away from fossil fuels.
In 2019, ICL introduced Idaho Power to the idea of using software, not assumptions, to consider complex problems, which resulted in its decision to exit from all coal-fired plants between 2022 and 2030.
Now, ICL is focused on ways to move from fossil-fueled transportation and heating toward clean sources.
ICL knows that systemic change takes time and perseverance. The Climate Team’s work shows that patiently and methodically focusing on facts, building alliances across stakeholders, and highlighting Idahoan’s common values of security, prosperity, and local opportunities are important ways to promote change in Idaho.
As Ben continues into the second decade of his work, join us in recognizing the steps Idaho Power has taken so far in its progress toward clean energy. Click here to show your appreciation for Idaho Power’s commitment to take part in Idaho’s clean energy future and to highlight the importance of its partnering with customers to increase clean energy projects.