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Plan Could Boost Farm-Generated Power

by Dave Wilkins, staff writer
Capital Press - February 22, 2002

BOISE -- More Idaho farms may decide to generate some of their own electricity if the state' largest utility agrees to changes in a propose renewable energy program.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission last week approved a "net metering," rate plan proposal by Idaho Power Co. for its residential and small commercial customers.

But the IPUC didn't stop there. The commission ordered Idaho Power to submit a plan within six weeks to include all other customer classes, including irrigators with small hydropower projects and farmers who generate power by such means as biomass technology or wind turbines.

Net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity to connect to a power company's grid, with power production and consumption measured by a single meter.

The meters are bidirectional, running forward when customers are using more power than they're producing and in reverse when they're producing more power than they're consuming.

The commission also ordered Idaho Power to increase its proposed 25 kilowatt limit on each customer-owned generation facility.

"We find a more reasonable limit for irrigators, dairies and other customer classes is in the range between 100 to 125 kilowatts," the IPUC said in its order.

The commission's action is a first step in encouraging more farm-generated power in the state, said Greg Nelson, director of public affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

"What we really needed was this break from the IPUC in authorizing the program and increasing the amount of power that Idaho Power would be willing to take into its grid," Nelson said.

The Farm Bureau and other organizations, including the Idaho Rural Council, Renewable Energy Advocates and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, submitted written comments supporting the idea of including all customer classes in the program.

The dairy industry could be a big beneficiary of net metering, some officials believe. Dairy production is now the largest segment of the agricultural industry in Idaho in terms of gross receipts, but waste management has become a big issue.

"One of the innovative ways (dairies) can handle waste and mostly eliminate lagoon odors is to divert the waste to biogenerators that convert the waste to methane that is burned and drives turbines that generate electricity," the Farm Bureau said in written comments.

The Idaho Legislature is also considering some measures this winter that could boost farm-generated power production.

One proposed bill would increase repayment periods for costs associated with installing co-generation facilities like anaerobic digesters or wind turbines connected to the power grid.

"If you're going to invest in all these things you need more than five years to repay it," Nelson said.

Dave Wilkins, staff writer
Plan Could Boost Farm-Generated Power
Capital Press, February 22, 2002

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