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Idaho Energy Demand Growing

by Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, December 6, 2005

It's now or never for the Columbia Falls aluminum plant.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- Growing demand will fuel the need for more power generation in Idaho, Idaho Power Co. officials told members of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

New power plants and improved transmission capacity will be needed to keep pace with demand over the next decade, Idaho Power officials said.

Rapid growth, particularly around Boise, is driving the need for more power generation and transmission lines in Idaho, said Karl Bokenkamp, general manager for power supply planning for the state's largest utility.

"In the Treasure Valley, we're seeing a significant increase in air conditioning demand in the summer," Bokenkamp said during the Farm Bureau workshop last week.

The high air conditioning demand also coincides with the peak demand from irrigation during the summer.

Idaho Power relies heavily on hydroelectric power to meet energy demands in the state. The utility is not seeking to build any new hydroelectric dams, but is in the process of relicensing its Snake River facilities.

Diminished flows along the Snake River have also forced the utility to reevaluate its dependence on hydro.

"We're seeing less water in the river for the utility," Bokenkamp said. "We have to factor those reductions in flow into our plan."

If flows along the mid-Snake continue their downward trend, hydropower generation could be reduced by as much as 500,000 megawatt-hours per year under median water conditions ( 57aMW), Bokenkamp said.

The utility plans to diversify its power portfolio with more renewal resources such as wind power and geothermal. It has also proposed using power from coal-fired plants to help meet growing energy demands.

Recommendations in the company's latest integrated resource plan include bringing 350 megawatts of wind power, 100 megawatts of geothermal power and 500 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity on line over the next decade.

In total, the utility anticipates the need for an additional 1,100 megawatts of power generation capacity by the year 2013.

"That represents a significant building program," Bokenkamp said. "Significant energy resources will be required over the next 10 to 20 years to meet the energy needs of Idaho Power customers."

The utility's last major building program was in the 1970s and '80s, he said.

Several small wind generation projects in Southern Idaho are seeking long-term contracts with Idaho Power.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy has proposed building a 600-megawatt coal-fired plant in Jerome County.

Both wind and coal-fired power have their disadvantages, said Randy Lobb, staff director for the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

Wind power has no fuel costs and only minimal environmental concerns, but it's not always available, Lobb said.

"If the wind doesn't blow, you can't depend on these systems," he said.

Coal-fired power plants use proven technology, but there are significant environmental concerns and transmission constraints.

"Nobody wants a coal-fired plant in their backyard," Lobb said.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Idaho Energy Demand Growing
Capital Press, December 9, 2005

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