Feds step into middle of another Idaho power fight

Associated Press Modified: November 22, 2012 at 9:30 am •  Published: November 22, 2012
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal regulators are wading into another Idaho energy fight, taking the state to court to force it to approve contracts requiring Idaho Power Co. to buy electricity from a small wind project.

The move by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission marks the latest instance where regulators in Washington have intervened in Idaho. In September, it forbid utilities from curtailing contractually required wind energy purchases during low-demand periods.

It also signals a showdown with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which is sticking by its decision to reject contracts between wind developer Murphy Flat Wind and Idaho Power.

Last month, the three-member panel decided Murphy Flat had missed important deadlines to appeal the state's rejection of its power purchase agreements. Gene Fadness, an Idaho Public Utilities Commission spokesman, said Wednesday state regulators see no reason to now change their ruling.

"We'll argue it in federal court in Boise," Fadness told The Associated Press. "In this case, Murphy Flat waited more than 15 months before filing its FERC case. The lack of a timely appeal disrupts the regulatory process, introduces uncertainty and is contrary to the interests of ratepayers and utilities."

Idaho's renewable energy landscape, especially for wind power developers, is extremely unsettled, with Fadness' agency now considering changes to state provisions governing when and how utilities must buy their electricity under a federal law, the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act of 1978, or PURPA, designed to promote independent power sources.

In September, for instance, the last time federal regulators waded into an Idaho dust-up, FERC told the state commission and utilities including Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power that PURPA forbid them from curtailing contractually obligated purchases of electricity from wind farms during low-demand periods.

That case is under appeal.

In the case at hand this week, Murphy Flat aims to build three projects totaling 30 average megawatts in southern Idaho's Owyhee County, south of Boise.

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