Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed an order Thursday continuing the Office of Energy Resources for another four years.
But instead of leading the state’s energy jobs and program development, the office has already shifted to a coordination role under its interim director John Chatburn. He told the Idaho Legislature’s interim committee on energy, environment and technology the staff would be cut from 14 to 10, down from 18 when the office was moved from the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
Under former director Paul Kjellander, who returned to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, the office boldly pushed the state to shift its policies to encourage energy efficiency, helped schools save millions of dollars with energy conservation and solar power projects and pressed for energy job and economic development. The office used the $40 million at the state’s disposal under the 2009 stimulus act to make the state a leader in energy jobs created in the middle of the recession.
But Chatburn told the committee he was working on presenting the state’s position on transmission projects and other energy initiatives by the state’s utilities and the federal government. Republican Co-chairman George Eskridge of Dover expressed concern over whether the cuts will allow the office to advocate the state’s energy interests.
Democratic Rep. Wendy Jaquet was even more critical. She said the office should be setting state’s energy course for the future instead of just reacting to others’ plans.
“We’re missing a huge opportunity for the state,” Jaquet said. "I want the office doing more than just going to meetings.”
The office is shifting away from delivering services and passing through stimulus dollars, Chatburn said.
“We are currently doing more on the policy side,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk of Boise said he wants a robust energy office but he's not sure he supports it in its current form.
"Is that the best us of taxpayer money to run this office at this reduced role?" Werk asked.