BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Power Co. got the green light Monday to spend tens of millions to clean up emissions at its Wyoming coal-fired power plant, and regulators want quarterly updates on whether the investments continue to make sense amid expected changes to federal environmental rules.
The decision by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission aims to ensure the state's biggest utility isn't locked into completing the estimated $130 million project, should alternatives to coal emerge as better for ratepayers.
Some observers expect the Obama administration to pass new greenhouse gas rules in 2015 that will hurt the viability of coal, compared with other forms of electricity generation.
However, if Idaho Power acts in good faith, the utility would likely be allowed to recover its costs from ratepayers, even if upgrades were abandoned before its pollution-control project was completed, PUC spokesman Gene Fadness said.
"We don't have a crystal ball," Fadness said. "The commission has always felt that if utilities are acting on the best information they had at the time, then the commission doesn't necessarily feel those costs have to be denied."
Monday's ruling came after protests by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, demanding Idaho Power invest in renewables and reduce demand rather than prolonging the life of the dirtier coal plant.
However, the commission decided Idaho Power's proposed investments, at least at this time, were better for ratepayers and trumped alternatives proposed by the environmental groups.
Idaho Power, which owns one-third of the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant near Rock Springs, Wyo., is under a federal Clean Air Act deadline meant to improve air quality in wilderness areas and national parks such as Yellowstone, located to the north of the plant.
PacifiCorp, which owns two-thirds of the Bridger plant, has already won approval from regulators in Utah and Wyoming for its share of the upgrades, due to be completed by late 2016. Without the upgrades, the Jim Bridger Plant would be forced to shut down.