Avista, which services North Idaho as far south as Grangeville, announced a goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045, and a carbon-neutral supply of electricity by the end of 2027. Currently, about 60% of Avista customers’ annual electric use is served from non-carbon sources, the company said.
“While a bill about to pass the Washington State legislature will already require Avista Energy to move away from coal and fracked gas by 2045, it’s good news that the utility intends to extend the benefits of clean energy to its Idaho customers as well,” said Zack Waterman, director of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club, in a statement. “We look forward to working with Avista to retire its current fossil fuel projects as quickly as possible.”
Ben Otto, energy associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said in a statement that his organization welcomes the news and will “continue to assist Avista on how to achieve this goal in an affordable and reliable manner.”
Rocky Mountain Power, which serves eastern Idaho between Malad and Preston and Rexburg, didn’t go so far as to commit to 100% renewable or carbon-free sources, but the company said it is considering retiring some of its coal units early, perhaps as soon as 2022.
The company is considering this as part of its biennial Integrated Resource Plan update, which helps utilities determine sources for electricity. The plan is scheduled to be completed in August, and parent company PacifiCorp said it expects to submit a plan to state regulators at that time.
Specifically, the company said Wyoming’s Naughton Units 1 and 2, and the Jim Bridger Units 1 and 2 would be less economical to operate beyond 2022 than other alternatives. PacifiCorp is a majority owner and the operator of the Jim Bridger units.
Idaho Power announced on March 26 a goal to provide 100% clean energy by 2045, reaching agreements to stop using coal-fired generators in Wyoming and Nevada.
Like so many dominoes, a series of Idaho public utilities reduced their rates on June 15, effective back to June 1. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which issued the announcements, credited the rate reductions to changes in federal and state tax laws.
“A main feature of the tax law that took effect Jan. 1 was to reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent,” noted one such release, from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. “Soon after the federal law took effect, Idaho Governor C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter signed into law House Bill 463, reducing the state’s corporate tax rate from 7.4 percent to 6.925 percent. Since a utility’s tax expenses are a factor in determining customer rates, the Commission directed all regulated utilities in the state with more than 200 customers to report the financial benefits of the law and how it planned to pass those benefits along to customers.”
Utility rate reductions are as follows:
Avista – 5.3 percent for electricity and 6.1 percent for natural gas
While business and economic development has typically been the purview of governmental and quasi-governmental organizations, increasingly utility companies are playing a role.
“Across the country, utilities like Idaho Power have business development teams, providing that single point of contact,” said former Idaho Director of Commerce Megan Ronk, whom Idaho Power hired in January as director of business innovation and development.
Idaho Power, which covers southern Idaho, works with site selectors to provide information about power and learn what businesses require, Ronk said. The company has also placed community relations representatives on economic development boards.
Avista Corp. provides natural gas and electricity to most of the 10 northern counties of Idaho, said Paul Kimmell, regional business manager for the Spokane company. Its business development efforts focus on community vitality and prosperity in urban and rural areas, he said.
For example, Avista formed the Business Entrepreneurship Network, creating a curriculum and providing seed funding for community colleges, including North Idaho College, Kimmell said. The company worked with Washington state to create Startup Washington 365, a template to support entrepreneurs that he hopes to launch in Idaho as well. “The kinds of economic development in rural Idaho are limited,” he said. “What are those strategies? What do they look like? A really formalized startup strategy will help those communities.”
Avista was also involved in forming Inland Northwest Partners, providing educational workshops and best practices for community leaders and economic development professionals. This led to the formation of the Inland Northwest Economic Alliance in 2004 to provide tools and training for economic development professionals spanning 14 organizations. Specifically for rural areas, the company also helped launch the Rural Vitality Initiative, a three-year pilot providing leaders and community members, including Idahoans, with an eight-month training program, he said.
Rocky Mountain Power, based in Salt Lake City, serves eastern Idaho between Malad and Preston and Rexburg, said Christopher Pengra, economic development director. The company works with agencies and municipalities on site selection, as well as with economic development organizations such as Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.
This helps the company prepare for growth, Pengra said. For example, it has $100 million in capital investments planned over the next three to four years, including upgrading capacity from Rigby to Rexburg and completing a transmission line from Goshen to Rigby.
All three utilities provide power to many states – Idaho Power to eastern Oregon, Avista to eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and Rocky Mountain to Utah — but their rates in Idaho are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, said Matt Evans, public information officer in Boise. “They are individually regulated by the commissions in each state, with costs allocated to each jurisdiction based on the cost to serve its residents,” he said. “Customer count is a big factor in determining those costs, but policies in other states are also a factor – renewable portfolio standards in Washington, for example.”
As electric utilities typically have a monopoly in the regions they serve, business development efforts may seem self-serving. But there is more to the utilities’ business development efforts than just creating new customers for themselves, representatives said. “Even though we’re a regulated utility, there’s still competition out there,” Ronk said. “Whether it’s existing customers or new companies, they have a lot of choices where they locate, across the country or in the Pacific Northwest. We’re competing from that standpoint for broader-scale investment into the service area and into the state.”
“We want the ability to pay for utility services and mutual prosperity,” said Kimmell. “We can figure out water, sewer, and roads, but we try to focus on civic ‘infrastructure.’”
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