Idaho Power seeks 32% rate hike; California bills in arrears

Idaho Power Co. asked state regulators to approve a 32% emergency energy charge to cover unprecedented wholesale power costs, the first of two anticipated within the next 6 months. The utility is also owed $48.6 million in unpaid bills from the California Power Exchange and the California grid operator. Idaho Power has run up a $160 million bill for purchased power costs since last April that were not included in rates.


By Ann de Rouffignac
OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, Feb. 26,�Idaho Power Co. asked state regulators to approve a 32% emergency energy charge to cover unprecedented wholesale power costs, the first of two anticipated within the next 6 months.

The utility is also owed $48.6 million in unpaid bills from the California Power Exchange (PX) and the California Independent System Operator (ISO).

The utility is seeking approval from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to implement a 1.3�/kw-hr charge for 1 year. Idaho Power has run up a $160 million bill for purchased power costs since last April that were not included in rates.

This emergency charge, to be effective Mar. 26, excludes a second rate hike scheduled for May 16. In May, the utility will apply to the commission for its annual Power Cost Adjustment. The company is not saying what size hike it is expecting, but warned consumers the increase could be �large.�

�The outlook is grim,� says Russ Jones, spokesman for the utility. A PUC spokesman said the increase could be another 24%.

�If water conditions remain the same and wholesale power costs remain high, the power cost adjustment could be the same as this increase,� said Terry Carlock, state rate audit supervisor for Idaho Power.

The May rate increase will include purchased power costs accrued since February and a forecast of wholesale power costs through 2002.

Idaho Power is being squeezed between a shortfall in hydroelectric power that has driven up the price of wholesale power and an increase in demand for power in Idaho and throughout the west.

The snow pack above Brownlee Reservoir, Idaho Power�s main storage pool for its Hells Canyon hydro facility, is 55% of normal as of February 2001. The company expects �diminished� hydroelectric power for the rest of the year, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

To boost supply, Idaho Power Co. is planning to purchase small power generating plants that will be sited at strategic locations on the company�s system of substations and transmission lines. The generators will range between 2-50 Mw.

The company also is developing conservation programs to lower demand in time for the summer peak. The program includes a proposal for large irrigation customers to submit bids under which Idaho Power will buy energy back from them in exchange for cutting demand and a time-of-use rate program. Commercial users also will be encouraged to reduce usage by 1,000 kw for credits on their accounts.

Besides the problem of uncollected wholesale power costs and continued high purchased power costs, the California Power Exchange and the California Independent System Operator owe Idaho Power for electricity delivered last year.

As of Feb. 9, 2001, the California PX owes Idaho Power $4.2 million for power sold prior to December 2000. The utility is owed an additional $7.1 million for power sold in December 2000 to be invoiced Mar. 6.

The California ISO also owes Idaho Power $750,000 for November deliveries and an additional $36.6 million that will be due March 6 for December sales.

The uncollected bills from California are not included in the requested rate increases, Carlock says.

More in Pipelines