Idaho Has More Wind Power Than it Can Use

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Despite being not one of the states with a renewable energy standard (RES), Idaho’s wind energy sector is flourishing. It is becoming an export market for the many states that do have an RES, and local utilities are taking issue with outside companies coming into the state and developing wind resources there.

Idaho’s three main utilities claim it is putting a strain on the Idaho grid, and have succeeded in getting the Public Utilities Commission to put an end to the legislation that helped put so much wind power on the Idaho grid.

According to the Boise Guardian one of the utilities in the state –  Idaho Power claims it could have 1,100 MW of wind generation on its system in the near term, which exceeds the amount of power used in Idaho Power’s total system on the lightest energy-use days.

As a result, in February, the PUC clamped down with new limits on the size of projects that can be permitted.

Prior to the decision, large wind farms were eligible to be paid at “avoided-cost rate” for power, based on the cost the utility avoids by buying power from the small-power producer and, thus, not having to build the generation itself or buy power from another source.

The PUC in February cut that down to a 100 KW limit, effectively eliminating the program. (Even just one typical US wind turbine has a capacity of 1.5 MW – 2.5 MW – more than ten times the 100 KW limit.) And tiny projects at the kilowatt scale would never be cost-effective enough to compete with wholesale utility power prices from power generation at the megawatt scale.

Originally, the limit was 10 MW, and the wind developers would aggregate farms in 10 MW increments to qualify. But the utilities claim that the rapid expansion of these projects is causing a strain on utility transmission systems which can affect electric reliability.

The Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition (NIPPC) – a coalition of companies developing over 6.5 GW of non-utility (independent power) capacity across three wind states including Idaho, expressed deep disappointment with the decision.

In the order, the PUC notes that the utilities have made a “convincing case,” to temporarily reduce the eligibility cap for wind and solar projects only until these issues can be resolved.

A meeting due to be held next week will air both sides.

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Image: Christian Wagner

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