Commission seeks utility feedback on new PURPA standards
State regulators will soon be deciding whether federal standards adopted under a new energy law should be required for Idaho’s regulated electric utilities.
Title XII of The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amends a section of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) by adding five new ratemaking standards for electric utilities. State regulatory commissioners are to determine whether the new standards are appropriate for their states. The five standards include net metering, fuel source diversity, fossil fuel generation efficiency and interconnection service to customers with their own on-site generating facilities.
The commission is inviting the three applicable utilities – Idaho Power Co., Avista Utilities and Rocky Mountain Power (formerly Utah Power) – interested stakeholders and the public to participate in the review process. It may be determined that Idaho already meets a number of the standards.
The commission has asked each of the utilities to respond to a number of questions included in today’s order by no later than Aug. 25. Those who want to receive copies of the utilities’ initial written comments must notify the commission secretary by no later than Aug. 11. After the commission and interested parties have had time to study the utility comments, the commission will conduct a public workshop to determine is there is consensus about which standards should be adopted, if a comparable standard should be adopted or if the state is already meeting the standard. That workshop is scheduled for Sept. 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the commission hearing room at 472 W. Washington St. After the workshop, the commission anticipates issuing another notice seeking general comments from the public.
Below is a summary of each of the standards adopted at the federal level and proposed for the states:
n Net metering. The federal standard says each utility is to make available net metering service to any consumer. Net metering allows a consumer who is generating his own electricity on site to be able to deliver that electricity to the local utility’s distribution system and be paid a certain amount (tariff) for the energy delivered. The three major Idaho electric utilities already offer net metering programs. Today’s order asks the utilities a number of questions about their respective net metering tariffs.
n Fuel sources. The standard says each utility must develop a plan to minimize dependence on fuel sources and to ensure the energy it sells to consumers is from a diverse range of fuels and technologies, including renewable technologies. This standard may already be in place in Idaho with the commission’s requirement that each utility file an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) every two years. The plan, among other things, provides an overview of available resource options including conservation measures.
n Fossil fuel generation efficiency. This standard requires each utility to implement a 10-year plan to increase the efficiency of its fossil fuel generation. All three major Idaho utilities have fossil fuel (coal and natural gas) generation. The utilities are asked to comment on whether they believe the IRP process already includes efficiency plans.
n Smart metering. The federal standard requires that within 18 months, all utilities offer its customers a time-based rate schedule that permits the rate charged to vary during different periods to reflect the utility’s cost of generating and purchasing electricity at the wholesale level. The schedule would allow the customers to adjust their use away from times when electricity is most expensive. In Idaho, all utilities have, at minimum, initiated smart metering technology. Avista Utilities, in northern Idaho, began installing advanced meter reading (AMR) devices on electric and gas meters in 2005. Rocky Mountain Power in eastern Idaho, formerly Utah Power, has offered time-of-day service for many years. Idaho Power has implemented an AMR pilot program for more than 23,000 customers. A recent federal report says Idaho ranks fifth in the percent of customers who use AMR, 16.2 percent.
n Interconnection. This standard encourages commissions to adopt “best practices” to promote the interconnection of customers on-site generating facilities to the local utility’s transmission system. Uniform standards are to address performance, operation, testing, maintenance and safety considerations for interconnections. In Idaho, these standards may be similar to already established procedures for net metering and for interconnecting small-power projects already available under PURPA.
Interested parties seeking a copy of the utility responses should notify the commission secretary by letter no later than Aug. 11. Letters may be mailed to 472 W. Washington St., Boise, 83702, or to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID, 83720-0074, or faxed to 208-334-3762. Utilities are required to have their responses completed by Aug. 25.
Copies of today’s order are available on the commission Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room,” and then “Electric Cases,” and scroll down to Case No. GNR-R-06-02.