Idaho consumers could pay over $10 million in excess electricity costs this year due to excess wind and solar power projects, Boise television station KTVB reports. Laws requiring utilities to purchase high-cost wind power at the expense of low-cost hydro power are stoking the higher electricity prices.
According to KTVB, “when Idaho Power receives a large amount of power generation from wind and solar, they have to compensate by backing down their generation from sources like hydro,” which is less expensive. According to federal law, electric utility Idaho Power cannot refuse to buy the excess wind and solar power, even when the utility does not need the power and even when it can purchase hydro power at lower prices.
Ben Brandt, the Load Serving Operations Director at Idaho Power, told KTVB that so many wind and solar facilities have been built in Idaho that wind and solar can power half the state. Brandt also observed that hydro power can be purchased on the wholesale market for much lower prices than wind and solar power.
“So that means that half of the energy that we’re using to supply the energy and homes of the Idaho Power customers is extremely expensive and does not reflect the prices of the wholesale market,” said Brandt.
The economic case for hydro power is compelling, but so is the environmental case. Hydro power produces no air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions. Unlike wind and solar power, hydro power is an on-demand power source that does not require constantly available backup coal or natural gas power for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. And while hydro power does alter the course of rivers by creating new lakes, the lakes create their own environmental benefits. Wind power, by contrast, requires developing hundreds of square miles of land to replace a single conventional power plant. Wind turbines in the United States also kill more than one million birds and bats each year, including many protected and endangered species.
Perhaps it is time to allow Idahoans to purchase more hydro power.