Idaho irrigators, utilities reach deal on peak energy plans
By JOHN O'CONNELL
The Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association has reached agreements with both Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power regarding their separate plans to change programs that pay irrigators who curtail pumping during peak hours of energy usage.
The association's proposed settlement with Idaho Power, which has had ample energy in recent years and had no need last season to curtail irrigators, allows the utility to suspend its load control programs this season.
In exchange, Idaho Power agreed to pay participating irrigators a "continuity fee" of $4.54 per kilowatt hour previously covered by the program -- 17 percent of the $25 per kilowatt hour the program had paid for the opportunity to curtail. During the suspension, the parties will meet to develop a new program to commence during the 2014 season.
"The power company and the Public Utilities Commission staff were in agreement. We were going to be the odd man out, and we could kind of see the handwriting on the wall," said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association.
The association has also rescinded its objections to Rocky Mountain Power turning over control of its peak electricity program to a third-party contractor, EnerNoc, Inc.
Tominaga explained many of the pumps enrolled in the program had already been turned off when Rocky Mountain sought to curtail irrigators last season. The company paid for 244 megawatts of curtailment but received only 139 megawatts.
EnerNoc will utilize monitors capable of measuring energy use by pumps on 10-minute intervals, enabling the contractor to pay irrigators only for power that is actually curtailed.
Tominaga said irrigators will retain the right to pump without a penalty at least once when EnerNoc seeks to curtail, in case a problem arises with an irrigation system that could put a grower behind schedule.
Randy Lobb, PUC utilities division administrator, expects a program operated by EnerNoc will commence this summer now that the irrigators aren't fighting it. Written comments on the EnerNoc agreement are due by March 1.
Comments on the stipulated settlement with Idaho Power, which has curtailment devices on 2,300 irrigation systems, are due by March 11.
"We really do value and appreciate the irrigators' participation in those programs," said Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin. "They've been important tools for us in the past, and they probably will again in the future."
Tominaga said irrigators will advocate to change the program from one-year contracts to five- or 10-year contracts to provide them assurance before making long-term investments in their irrigation systems. For example, irrigators may wish to purchase variable-speed pumps to gradually restart sprinkler systems after curtailment, Tominaga said.
The Idaho Conservation League has been involved in discussions with both power companies. ICL energy associate Ben Otto said his organization supports the agreements because they stand to make the program viable in the long term.
"Our interest is in finding ways for Idaho to have the electric service it needs for both the lowest price and also the lowest environmental impacts," Otto said.