Two Stopped, Two Closing, Two More to Go

While coal pollution and climate change are hot topics these days, ICL has been protecting Idaho’s air quality for decades.

ICL’s work often takes decades of persistence. A stack of old newsletters contains stories from the 1970s about ICL preventing construction of the Pioneer coal plant near Boise and advocating for energy conservation and clean alternatives instead. Since then, we have not let up. As a result, ICL’s track record is strong—two coal plants have been stopped, two plants are ready to close, and two more are in our crosshairs. Back then, we focused on local air pollution instead of climate change, but the argument is the same: coal is too dirty and too expensive for Idaho.

Stopping Coal from Polluting Idaho

In the 1970s, Idaho Power argued that booming electrical demand required a massive new coal plant right outside Boise. ICL looked at the facts and saw that investing in conservation and clean energy was a better option to meet Idaho’s energy needs. Like today, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission agreed, opening the door to clean energy for Idaho.

From the get-go, ICL knew that opposing coal was not enough: we needed to create the clean energy future. Newsletters from the 1980s tell stories of ICL asking the PUC to implement this vision and to direct utilities to offer energy conservation programs as a way to meet energy needs without pouring money into power plants.

But sometimes bad ideas pop up again. In the early 2000s, San Diego-based Sempra Generation proposed a massive coal plant near Twin Falls to power California.

ICL again rallied Idahoans to oppose the plant and protect Idaho’s clear air. Like decades before, power companies claimed coal was the best option, while ICL showed that coal power was a bad deal for Idaho’s air and economy.

Closing Coal to Protect Idaho

To truly protect our air and climate, we go beyond stopping new coal plants. But replacing existing plants with clean alternatives is a tall order. So, in 2008, ICL received a major grant from the Edwards Mother Earth Foundation and ramped up a more comprehensive energy campaign.

Over the past seven years, we have seen great success in expanding energy conservation programs and building a clean energy industry to outcompete coal power. Growing these clean, local and affordable options is a key step in replacing dirty coal plants that serve Idaho today: Boardman in Oregon, North Valmy in Nevada, Colstrip in Montana and Jim Bridger in Wyoming.

Two of these phase out in the 2020s. ICL allies negotiated to close Boardman by 2020. At Idaho Power, energy conservation and clean alternatives have already replaced its output. In May 2017, we signed onto a settlement with Idaho Power obligating the utility to phase out burning coal at the Valmy plant between 2019 and 2025. We achieved this result by participating in the utility planning process and showing that clean options could provide more reliable power for less cost. Specifically, growing energy conservation and relying on the relatively clean wholesale energy markets could replace dirty coal

Continuing the Clean Energy Transition

Despite decades of showing that clean energy is better than coal, our work is not done. We see more opportunities to redirect Idaho’s energy dollars to local, affordable and clean options. We are assessing Avista’s minor share of the Colstrip plant and Idaho Power’s one-third share in Jim Bridger. As history has shown, clean energy options can outcompete dirty, out-of-state coal plants.

Avista owns a small interest in the massive Colstrip plant in Montana. That plant is teetering on the brink as the operating owner loses millions of dollars annually. Major owners like Puget Sound Energy are looking to exit the plant.

Meanwhile, Avista plans to forge ahead. We believe that Avista is discounting the risks of Colstrip and ignoring the benefits of further investing in conservation and clean energy. Stay tuned for opportunities to learn more and weigh in.

Idaho Power owns a third of the massive Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming. To comply with clean air laws, plant owners must either install expensive pollutions controls or close (“shutter”) the plants. Idaho Power must decide in the next year whether to install these controls at two of the four units making up the plant.

ICL engaged in the planning process, and analysis shows that closing these units is a more economical decision. Now we are debating the best closure dates—the late 2020s as Idaho Power argues or the mid-2020s as our analysis shows.

Building on Our Legacy

While coal pollution and climate change are hot topics these days, ICL has been protecting Idaho’s air quality for decades. We will build on this legacy by showing that clean energy makes even more sense for Idaho todayHelp us continue this work by making a donation today!

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