Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.
ICL’s Ben Otto and others are working right now to keep Idaho Power Company from largely choking off new clean energy development in its territory by anyone other than the company itself. I see this work as within a long, three-part, many-step project by conservation-minded Idahoans to clean up and clean up after our largest electric utility.
Part one: eliminate carbon emissions from its electricity generation. Coal provides 35% of Idaho Power’s electricity, and natural gas 5%. The faster that can be zeroed out the better, and despite some shiny rhetoric the company is not on a fast or sure path to do so. The citizen pressure now being applied must persist and grow.
Part two: expand opportunities and integrate mechanisms that allow Idaho people, businesses, institutions and communities to generate, store and transfer electricity themselves, within safe and reliable distribution systems and without damage to air, water and health. This will likely unwind large parts of the existing monopoly utility system, which must occur without unfairly stranding the old or new system’s costs upon particular customer or citizen classes, or upon air and water.
Today’s work to keep Idaho Power and other utilities from shrinking to two years the contract terms they offer independent power producers fits in here. Kudos to ICL and others doing it, but as they know there will be much more to do. While technology trends, market forces and climate concerns drive transition from our old energy systems to still-under-construction new ones, doing it right and fairly for people will require wise and entrepreneurial local and state policies. (We can seek wise federal policy, but would be foolish to count on it.)
Part three: heal the vast damage Idaho Power’s dams and reservoirs have done and do to our rivers and waters, and thus to our ecological and public health which is anchored in water. "Cheap hydropower" has always been a myth. Much of its real cost has been dumped on powerless people and living waters in the past, present and future so that we now can falsely "enjoy some of the lowest electric rates in the nation." This is the most complex and difficult part of cleaning up Idaho Power, but it’s also urgent. A healthy Snake River is not optional for southern Idaho. I’ll explore this more a week or two down the road.
These three parts have their separate features and timings, but they are tightly related and so must be pursued in some unison. They’ll trip each other up if pursued separately.
I hope some readers have noticed I’ve been simplistic here. Idaho Power’s customers, and Idaho’s state and local energy policies, are coresponsible with the company for past practices, and even more for future directions. A main feature of the energy transition now underway is that it is displacing electric utilities from the center of energy action and responsibility, and putting people, businesses and communities there instead.
– Pat Ford