By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho farmers who were hammered by much higher power bills this year are seeking more transparency from the state's largest utilities so they can better prepare for future rate increases.
The Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, Monsanto Co., AARP and other large power users are negotiating separately with Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, the state's two largest regulated electric utilities.
Power users want to be able to offer input on planned large capital expenditures before they happen, said Trent Clark, who is representing Monsanto, which makes elemental phosphorus at its Soda Springs plant that is used to produce the company's popular Roundup herbicide.
If those expenditures are warranted, he said, then at least customers can better prepare for future rate increases resulting from those projects.
"The whole request for more disclosure is to accomplish those two things," he said. "People very much want to be able to plan for these rate increases a little better than they've been able to."
A bill introduced during the 2012 Idaho Legislature that sought more disclosure and transparency from the utilities was put on hold after the companies agreed to negotiate with customer groups.
Rocky Mountain Power has agreed to provide the information early next year and the groups hope to reach a similar agreement with Idaho Power.
"Don't we have a right to know what our power costs are going to be?" said IIPA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga.
If the information is provided, that would be great, Tominaga said. If not, he added, stakeholders might push a bill during the 2013 legislative session to change the state's public utilities law to require utilities to provide the information.
Idaho irrigators suffered enough rate shock this year, Tominaga said, as a significant increase in power rates coupled with a very hot summer resulted in power sticker shock for many farmers.
"Most people I've talked to say it was the highest power usage they can remember," he said. "They turned their wells on in May and didn't turn them off until they were done with harvest."
Canal companies also diverted more water than normal, said Brian Olmstead, general manager of Twin Falls Canal Co.
"The diversion was heavy right from the start," he said. "This year it turned hot by the first of May and it was full irrigation after that. I think a lot of people had surprisingly large power bills."
Shelley farmer Stan Searle, who is representing IIPA in the negotiations, said farmers and other customers have a right and a need to know what future rates will look like and to have a say in decisions that might affect them.
"It affects our bottom line immensely and that bottom line is hard to maintain when we have no control ... over who's providing the resource," said Searle, whose irrigation power bill increased 10 percent this year. "We have to have an idea of where our power rates are going."