Clean the grid and electrify everything – that’s the Idaho Conservation League’s strategy for protecting Idaho’s air quality and climate stability. Cars and trucks are Idaho’s leading source of air pollution. Because we rely on out-of-state fossil fuels, we drain billions from Idaho’s economy importing oil and gas. Meanwhile our electric gird is relatively clean and getting better all the time. By cleaning up our electricity system, and then powering our transportation needs, Idaho will be more secure and, all while protecting our air and climate.

ICL has been working hard with these goals in mind – and we are making progress! The week of Valentines Day 2019 marked two milestones for Idaho.

Gov. Little Sees EVs as Idaho’s Future

On Valentine’s Day, Gov. Brad Little signed a proclamation declaring Feb. 14 as Electric Vehicle Day in Idaho. Gov. Little’s support of EVs comes as no surprise as folks from all walks of life are realizing the range of benefits associated with electrifying our transportation sector. For more information on this, check out our EV legislative fact sheet.

The primary benefit is that electric vehicles are much cleaner overall than fossil fuel versions. We are mindful of the environmental impacts from all types of developments. When looking at the lifecycle – from mining materials to manufacturing to burning fuel for travel – electric vehicles are clearly cleaner. Because our electricity system is cleaner than gasoline or diesel, within 6 to 18 months electric vehicles being delivering climate benefits that last for years to come.

Gov. Little’s support behind EVs is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean our work – or yours – is over. We must turn Gov. Little’s words into action. Here’s what you can do:

Coal Plant Closure Through Trump Tax Cut

To clean up our electric grid, we engage with our electric utilities and the regulators. Because you don’t get to choose your electric company, the state of Idaho, through the Public Utilities Commission, regulates the price you pay for electricity. This PUC oversight includes the power plants utilities own and operates. Recently Avista asked to adjust the accounting for all of these assets, including a portion of the Colstrip coal plant in Montana. This complex process can sometimes lead to interesting results. Here we found a way to use the Trump tax cuts to accelerate the retirement of a coal plant.

When a utility builds a power plant, it invests the money upfront and then  recoups this investment over time from customers. The length of time is called a "depreciation schedule" and should match the time over which the plant provides useful service – it’s like a mortgage on a house or loan on a car. For Colstrip, which opened in the 1970-80’s, that schedule stretched to 2040 and beyond.  The agreement ICL reached with Avista and regulators accelerated this schedule to 2027. The simple way to understand this is: the earlier the payoff, the earlier Idaho electric customers can transition from Colstrip to renewables. But, doesn’t an earlier payoff mean electric bills will increase? No.

This deal has an elegant solution to avoid the annual rate increase that often accompanies this type of decision. When Trump cut corporate taxes in 2017, this created a huge amount of money utilities would be collecting in electric rates they would not be paying in tax bills for the year. Instead of keeping this windfall, the state PUC asked for ideas on how to return the tax cut to customers. The Washington regulators proposed using a portion of the tax cut to offset the cost of Colstrip. ICL supported including this provision in Idaho. Using Trump’s corporate tax cut to pay off an expensive coal plant to pave the way for clean energy – that’s the kind of elegant solution and good decision making ICL supports.

Be a Climate Hero

Protecting our air and climate is not just done through Governors and regulators. We all have a unique ability to protect our air and climate every time you flip a light switch or take a drive. Become a climate hero and make a difference for Idaho:

  • Vote directly with your dollars by taking simple actions to reduce your energy use at home.
  • Build a community by sharing your simple actions with friends and neighbors.
  • Speak up for clean energy directly to your electric provider.

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