Idaho’s largest electricity provider has assessed the financial costs associated with wildfires, and acknowledged the need to prepare for climate change impacts. In a presentation to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Jan. 22, Idaho Power outlined spending a total of $81.3 million over five years to evaluate the risk of wildfires in its service area and implement ways to reduce these risks and the utility’s insurance costs.

The plan considers factors, such as location and conditions (e.g., topography, vegetation, and weather) to determine whether operations and maintenance in the field is too risky to perform during wildfire season. Also, the plan calls for the clearing of vegetation around Idaho Power infrastructure, and inspecting and replacing wooden utility poles that are susceptible to fire. 

According to its plan, 70 days have been added to Idaho’s wildfire season over the past 30 years. On top of this, climate change has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires. These larger, more intense fires can devastate local communities and ecological health, leading to the tragic loss of life, private property, public lands, and wildlife.

With tragic wildfires that have erupted across the West in recent years, utilities are beginning to take proactive steps to reduce fire risk and improve their infrastructure. Utility systems, with charged wires and hot motors on service equipment, have caused wildfires and climate change (warmer temperatures, extreme changes in weather, and growth of fuel/vegetation) exacerbates the risk of failing equipment sparking the flames.

Additionally, the tiny particles released in wildfire smoke are up to 10 times more harmful to people than other air pollutants like car exhaust. Last year, smoke from wildfires in Oregon, California, and Idaho caused southern Idaho’s air quality to be so poor that officials issued advisories to limit time outdoors.

Idaho Power must get PUC approval of its wildfire mitigation plan and approval to spend ratepayer dollars on this mitigation and fire prevention work. This marks the first time that costs directly associated with climate change will affect Idaho customers’ monthly bills.  

We support Idaho Power’s acknowledgment of the consequences of climate change and the immediate need to prepare for associated costs and changes to limit wildfire risk in our state. We are also asking that Idaho Power work with the U.S. Forest Service, and local collaborative efforts on a landscape-scale approach to make our forests and watersheds more resilient to wildfires. We are hopeful that this is the first of many steps by state utilities to continue support of the resiliency, health, and safety of Idaho’s communities in addressing climate change.

Let the PUC know that you support Idaho Power’s wildfire mitigation plan. As a top contributor to climate change from Idaho, the energy sector needs to invest in reducing the negative impacts of climate change. The PUC is taking public comments on Idaho Power’s wildfire plan through April 8.