About half of Idaho’s electricity comes from burning coal in neighboring states. We ship our dollars away and get back energy plus air pollutants like toxic mercury and climate-changing carbon dioxide. We know we can do better.
After years of effort, ICL is helping chart a path towards a clean energy future for Idaho. We dove into the numbers and found that Idaho Power’s North Valmy coal plant is relatively expensive. We engaged in Idaho Power’s long-term planning process to test these numbers against several portfolios of clean alternatives. And the conclusion is, to quote Idaho Power, “portfolios with early North Valmy Retirement are competitive.” In other words, replacing coal with clean energy can save Idahoans money while protecting the air we breathe.
Is It Cheaper to Close Coal?
The North Valmy coal plant is just over the border near Battle Mountain, Nevada. Idaho Power owns one half of the 500 MW plant in partnership with NVEnergy. Closing this plant will cut climate-changing carbon pollution and local air pollutants like mercury, acid gases and particulates.
While we know that a stable climate and healthy air is priceless, to shutter a plant we had to find clean alternatives that produce energy for about the same cost.
To compare coal to clean energy, ICL engages in the long-term planning process of Idaho utilities known as Integrated Resource Plans. At Idaho Power, we proposed a method to carefully and completely compare the costs of coal to clean energy. Then we worked with the utility and others to feed into this method accurate numbers about the cost and performance of clean energy options. This resulted in considering 23 different portfolios-some of which kept coal while others replaced coal with clean energy.
After calculating the cost of each option, 11 portfolios stood out as lower cost. Of these, 10 included retiring coal plants. In short, retiring coal between 2020 and 2025 can save Idahoans money compared to operating these plants into the mid-2030s at least.
Can We Keep the Lights On?
Along with the cost, the planning process considers the risks of different portfolios of energy sources. For example, relying heavily on natural gas exposes Idahoans to the risk of gas prices rising. Similarly, relying on hydro exposes us to the risk of drought, and relying on coal exposes us to the risk of expensive pollution controls and climate catastrophe. Through the planning process, we showed that clean energy means less reliance on volatile gas prices, less exposure to the cost of carbon pollution, and less dependance on changing river flows. Closing coal will save money and set Idaho on a path towards a more stable energy future.
What’s This about a Transmission Line?
One of the major resources that can help replace coal power is the Boardman to Hemingway transmission line. Known as B2H, this line will stretch from Murphy, Idaho to Boardman, Oregon, and tap into a mix of hydropower and wind power. Because this line will tap into low-carbon energy, ICL is closely monitoring the proposed location of this line to ensure it avoids wildlife habitat, scenic areas and other wild places. So far, so good.
Idaho Power announced to their shareholders that bringing B2H online is a key step towards closing North Valmy coal plant. Through the planning process, ICL learned that Idahoans can save the most money by closing Valmy in 2020. We will continue to monitor the B2H project and promote other clean energy, like solar, to ensure we stay on track to shutter coal power.