BLACKFOOT – Tim Solomon of Rocky Mountain Power addressed the Bingham County commissioners Tuesday afternoon regarding upgrades, dealing with issues from the previous natural disasters, and their commitment to green energy.
Solomon’s update included expressed interest in green energy including major involvement and investment in newer forms of wind energy.
He started with talking about upgrades Rocky Mountain Power has performed, including a new transmission line being run from Rexburg to Goshen in efforts of creating a better method to reaching their end users. That project — now complete — was put on hold when the large Labor Day windstorm came through toppling trees and knocking out people’s power, some for over a week.
Solomon said they were working every waking hour to get their customers’ power on as soon as possible. He also alluded to a new system that RMP is exploring that would provide them better updates on who does or does not have power, similar to a SCADA system. SCADA systems provide real-time updates of information, but the traditional type of SCADA systems are too expensive to install without major impact on the end user, which is why they have not explored that option thoroughly.
Solomon then turned his attention to explain some of the differences the power industry is facing, including the wildfires in California, windstorms like what hit here and Salt Lake City, and the request to remove dams from the Klammath River in California, Oregon, and Washington. He explained that the wildfires in California always cause issues with power supplies and that it was no exception to that with the fires this year. The issues that were stemming from the fires were only multiplied by the windstorms that hit their service areas in Idaho and Utah, according to Solomon.
He spent the majority of his time talking about the benefits of green energy and the potential changes coming down the pipeline from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regarding solar energy and wind energy on the end-user’s property. Solomon explained that currently those who are generating more power than they can use with their solar systems and personal wind turbines are able to sell the excess energy back to the power company at retail rates, around 10.5 cents per kilowatt/hour. The issue that comes into consideration is that the power companies are able to purchase energy from external resources at roughly 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, meaning the end-users who do not have a way to subsidize their usage pays for that energy as well. Because of these issues and the end result of higher rates for customers, PUC is working on a decision that may change at what rate people are able to sell power back to these companies.
Solomon explained that across Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah, their investment in wind energy will increase by an average of nearly 40% and are investing in sleeker, more efficient turbine blades that will more than double the amount of energy produced and are capable of rotating in wind speeds as low as three miles per hour.
The final key point that Solomon would make during his meeting with the commissioners was regarding customer bills. Rocky Mountain Power has decided that during the pandemic, they will not shut customers’ power off for failure to make a payment because they understand some of the financial difficulties some families are facing and do not want to add to the problem.
In addition to not shutting customers off for lack of payment, they will be waiting until 2021 to evaluate any cost adjustments needed for the supplying of power, and will not be charging it to the customer during the pandemic. Instead, they are going to work on a set fixed increase (if needed) to recover the expenditures of supplying power. Solomon used an analogy to explain the process; if it costs $1 to supply power to a home and we budgeted for $1.50, we return the $0.50, and if it cost $2, we will need to recover the difference.
Solomon explained that they are proud to serve the people of Idaho, and wanted to remind people that if there is an outage in their area, please report it so they can resolve the issue as quickly as possible.