- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Power officials have put forward the company’s plan to keep air conditioners humming and computer screens from going dark in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon over the next two decades as energy demands rise.

The company in its 144-page Integrated Resource Plan submitted last week to the public utility commissions in both states predicts an increase from 516,000 customers to 711,000 in 20 years.

The company says its 17 hydroelectric projects on the Snake River and its tributaries will remain a key ingredient to meeting greater demand.

In 2014 the company generated 77 percent of its own power, with 36 percent coming from hydropower. But high demand during low water years causes the company some concern.

“We saw that a little bit last week where we had really high demand,” Bowlin said, noting a time-span where temperatures in southern Idaho soared above 100 degrees. “We haven’t had a great water year. Last week we had to run hydro at a high level.”

Besides the hydroelectric projects, the company has three natural gas plants, a diesel-powered plant and shares ownership in three coal-fired plants. The company in 2014 got 34 percent of its power from its coal plants, and 7 percent from its natural gas plants.

But one of the coal plants is scheduled to shut down in 2020, and the future of another is unclear with potential tougher federal pollution regulations set to be released in August. That makes Idaho Power’s planning process more complex.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Bowlin said.

The company purchased 23 percent of its power from outside entities in 2014. Thirteen percent of that came from energy sources under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA, which is intended to promote alternative resources such as wind and solar.

Idaho Power in January asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to shorten the length of contracts for wind and solar projects under PURPA, which the company said will make planning less uncertain. Power companies under the act are required to buy electricity at a state commission-approved rate from qualifying small power production facilities.

The commission previously reduced from 20 years to five years the length of contracts, and is now considering cutting that to two years. Solar companies said shorter contracts could put them out of business. The commission is expected to make a decision by early August.

High on Idaho Power’s to-do list is completing a 500-kilovolt transmission line by 2025 from Melba in southwest Idaho to Boardman in north-central Oregon.

That will give the company greater access to the Mid-Columbia market where Idaho Power can purchase energy when needed and sell access energy. The line will also provide reliability, the company said, and create flexibility that’s needed with variable energy producers such as solar and wind.

The company itself is proposing a pilot project involving solar panels to boost voltage at the end of long distribution feeder lines.

A second pilot project the company wants to try is using electricity to create ice at night when power demand is low. The ice would be used to cool buildings at day when energy demand picks up.

A review process for the Integrated Resource Plan is now underway and includes public meetings planned for this fall.

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