This session the Idaho Legislature will update its 2007 Energy Plan and that’s the focus of all of the groups that are involved in especially the electricity policy arena. The Legislature’s Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee will write the proposal based on a draft developed by a panel appointed by Gov. Butch Otter.
The 2012 Energy Plan will also look at transportation and space heating but it is in the electrical energy arena that most of the biggest controversies arise. The draft plan is out and the comment period has been extended to Nov. 3.
There was no assurance in 2007 that the energy plan would have any impact on state policy. Much of the real policy work goes on between the state’s investor owned utilities and, because they are a monopoly the Idaho Public Utilities Commission that regulates them.
Other groups like conservationists, ratepayers, those who represent the poor and senior groups like ARRP, weigh in before the commission on or in the utilities’ own Integrated Resource Planning process.
But in 2006,when the current plan was written, an out-of-state company was proposing building a coal-fired power plant near Jerome so it could sell the power to California. The energy world was on the edge of a major transition and the foresight of the lawmakers to lay out policy helped steer the state in ways it now considers mostly positive.
The plan became a basis for a moratorium on the coal plant, which gave it an early death it now is obvious it was certain to face. That’s because the concerns over regulation of carbon emissions all but ended the building of coal fire plants in the U.S. That won’t change until a carbon sequestration technology for coal is developed.
The plan called for better building codes and Idaho has since become a leader in updating to international building codes that make homes more energy efficient. The plan called for making energy efficiency the highest priority in meeting energy needs and now few question it is now the cheapest alternative saving ratepayers in homes, businesses and farms.
It promoted encouraging renewable energy resources and more than a billion dollars has been invested in the state in wind, geothermal, solar and biofuel plants creating thousands of jobs but also triggering concerns over costs by utilities and aesthetics, health and wildlife concerns by neighbors of wind plants.
It led Gov. Butch Otter to create the Office of Energy Resources, which laid the groundwork for hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and even research and development when Congress passed the stimulus bill. When that money runs out there no money left and the lawmakers writing the current plan will have to address that.
Idaho also has a new natural gas production industry and the plan will likely help guide policy on what may be a major economic opportunity but also has environmental and social challenges for people in the gas fields.
The Strategic Energy Alliance, the panel Otter appointed that wrote the draft plan, made it recommendations to the committee Thursday. They were aimed, said its chairman Steven Aumeier, director of energy systems and technology for the Idaho National Laboratory, to emphasize ensuring energy supplies when and in the form users need it, economic development and helping to develop Idahoans’ energy IQ.
The panel couldn’t reach a consensus on international building codes, something most in the energy business consider critical.
The panel’s draft remarks brought challenges from lawmakers and other groups in part for its process. No one questioned the writing the draft or the work of its task forces. But the recommendations, which appeared to reduce the priority for energy efficiency and proposed language backing off support for incentives to help support policy directions, prompted some lawmakers to question the make-up of the alliance.
There were no representatives from environmental groups, renewable energy advocates, senior or low income ratepayers advocates on Otter’s panel. Aumeier stressed that the board Otter appointed is just another group commenting with no more say than anyone else. Since it is dominated by the utilities and powerful industries, critics are skeptical.
Now the interim committee is taking comments from anyone so if you have ideas about what direction Idaho’s energy policy should take, now is a good time to weigh in.