An interim legislative committee is backing away from previous support for the creation of a consumer advocacy office for the state’s utility customers and a set of tax incentives for renewable energy.
The Legislature’s Interim Energy, Environment and Technology Committee decided Nov. 21 not to endorse an advocate’s office.
The panel is in the process of rewriting the state’s 2007 Energy Plan, and the Nov. 21 vote on details of the plan is the first of two before the document is sent to the Legislature for review starting in January.
The Idaho Statesman reports that the committee also backed off language supporting fuel efficiency standards and backing for a local option sales tax that would be used to help finance mass transit projects.
Despite the revisions, energy efficiency remained the top priority for the new five-year plan that is intended to guide state energy policy. The plan attracted more than 80 detailed comments from the public but included no new initiatives like its 2007 predecessor.
“People really got engaged, but this plan has less teeth than the last one,” said Democratic Rep. Wendy Jaquet, of Ketchum.
The initial draft of the plan specifically promoted incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. The panel approved language “encouraging investment” but did not endorse incentives like the 6 percent renewable energy sale tax rebate, which expired earlier this year amid fierce legislative lobbying and debate.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and co-chairman of the committee, said the plan still would support legislation that proposes tax incentives for renewable energy projects. And Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the draft approved Nov. 21 would not rule out incentive programs that state utilities and some conservative groups have fought against in the past.
The idea of creating a consumer advocacy office had the support of groups including AARP, conservationists to companies like Monsanto, which operates phosphate mines and is one of the state’s biggest electricity customers. But Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the state already has an effective consumer advocate in the form of the Public Utilities Commission, the state regulator of utilities operating in Idaho.
“We have the cheapest rates in the nation,” Anderson said. “How much lower can we get the rates?”
But Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, argued that a consumer advocate would keep balance at the PUC when utilities spend money on attorneys and experts to make the case for raising rates.
“Frankly, they can just outgun the other ratepayer classes,” said Tippets, who works for Agrium Inc., another phosphate mining company and big power user. “It seems to me we ought to level the playing field.”
“I think it’s ridiculous to say the PUC is not doing that already, it’s insulting,” Anderson said.
Idaho is one of four states without a consumer advocate for electricity customers.