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Return to Previous PageDam Relicensing Is Greater Issue Facing Idaho Power

Idaho Statesman

It’s too early to read a lot into Idaho Power Co.’s contention that it will be unable to meet peak demands by the summer of 2004 unless the company’s power capability is increased. Company officials are not pushing the panic button, and neither should ratepayers.

It’s much too early to speculate what Idaho Power will do to respond to the projected shortage or what effect, if any, this will have on power rates.

All we have done is identify a problem,” said Dennis Lopez, spokesman for Idaho Power. “If we did nothing, it could cause problems. The demand for electricity is continuing to grow. We’re trying to see what the solutions might be.”

Looking on the bright side, it’s good the company is thinking about this well before 2004 and discussing options, which include building a new power plant and exploring alternatives such as solar- and wind-generated power.

Idaho continues to be in a growth mode, in terms of both population growth and economic expansion, so it’s not surprising that Idaho Power sees some problems ahead. It’s also not surprising that, at some point, the company–which for 40 years has supplied the lowest power rates of any privately owned entity in the nation–may have to look at raising rates to pay for capital investments. But those decisions will come later.

A more serious concern for Idaho Power Co. now is maintaining the power source that has made it possible for Idahoans to pay low rates over the past four decades.

The operating licenses for three Hells Canyon dams–which provide 75 percent of the hydroelectricity that supplies customers in southern Idaho–are up for renewal in 2005. Even more than before, the company must consider more than power interests. Idaho Power also must deal with saving salmon and steelhead, which are listed as endangered species, and the effects of the dams on other forms of wildlife.

If the four dams in the Lower Snake River are not breached, additional pressure will be placed on Idaho Power to contribute more to solving the salmon problem.nIdaho Power, to its credit, is attempting to resolve the issue through collaboration. A wide range of interests–including environmental and recreation groups and Indian tribes–is working with Idaho Power on the relicensing issue. More than 200 people participated in a Boise forum recently to talk about relicensing concerns.

Idaho Power hopes that through collaboration and scientific review it can avoid the kind of polarization that has been so much apart of the debate on breaching the Lower Snake River dams.

If Idaho Power and the various groups can come up with a solution to restore fish while maintaining inexpensive electricity, fine.

If other groups can participate with Idaho Power in the writing the relicensing permit, so much the better. As we’ve seen in the breaching debate, unification is far preferable to division.

Idaho Power is making a noble effort to draft a permit that reflects the concerns of ratepayers and environmental interests. But if, for some reason, differing factions make it impossible to draft a cohesive permit, Idaho Power should be prepared to step away from the collaborative process.

It’s critical to Idaho, and especially to the economic future of southern Idaho, that the power company obtain relicensing to operate the three Hells Canyon dams.

It’s important for ratepayers that the cost of complying with endangered species regulations make it practical for Idaho Power to continue operations.

nIdaho statesman
Boise, ID
April 18, 2000

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