BOISE, Idaho (AP) — New rules governing small renewable energy projects in Idaho will likely make it tougher for wind and solar developers to succeed but will be helpful for new dairy digesters and small, canal-based hydroelectric projects.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission's 69-page decision establishes new ground rules for renewable power projects and regulated utilities under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA, a 34-year-old federal law meant to promote alternative resources.
Under the decision, solar and wind projects must generate less than 100 kilowatts, on average, to qualify for federally mandated contracts. That limit makes it more difficult for new projects to get off the ground but is a victory for utilities like Idaho Power Co. that complained they've been overloaded with unwanted wind power.
By contrast, the three-member panel stuck with 20-year power contracts — utilities wanted just five-year pacts — and awarded valuable environmental credits to small developers, over utilities' insistence they were the rightful owners. This will help developers including those seeking to produce power from dairy manure by making it easier for them to win financing.
"If I'm wind or solar, I don't like it," said Peter Richardson, a Boise-based lawyer for renewable energy developers, of Tuesday's ruling. "If I'm any other kind of resource, I'm in heaven."
PUC Chairman Paul Kjellander and commissioners Marsha Smith and Mack Redford said their ruling's rationale was two-fold: to continue Idaho's support of renewable energy, while shielding utility ratepayers from undue price hikes.
For instance, they said the reason they preserved the 100-kilowatt limit for PURPA-eligible wind and solar projects was to prevent developers for breaking large projects up into smaller ones. That's something Idaho Power has said was done prior to 2010, to qualify for attractive, federally mandated prices while driving up ratepayers' bills.
"With the changes ... we believe that PURPA development can continue to thrive in a way that holds ratepayers harmless," the PUC said in a statement.
Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said the Boise-based utility was pleased with the limits for wind and solar, in particular.