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PUC order could bring wind and solar projects to standstill in Idaho

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission dropped the size limits for wind and solar plants that will qualify for a fixed price.

But the commission allowed biomass, geothermal and small hydro energy projects to still get the rate authorized by the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act. It also said its decision to drop the cap for wind and solar projects from 10 megawatts to 100 kilowatts is temporary until it can address the strain the projects place on the transmission systems of the three public utilities that asked for the change, Idaho Power, Rocky Mountain Power and Avista.

The Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition, which represents companies operating and developing more than 6,500 megawatts of power capacity in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, said the decision will bring their job-creating developments to a standstill.

“We believe the commission based its conclusions on a flawed interpretation of its own procedure and a faulty reading of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy,” said Robert Kahn, NIPPC’s executive director.

Idaho Power officials have said wind companies still can negotiate on rates without the 10 megawatt limit. The utilities argued that the rapid development of especially wind power presented reliability challenges to them.

The commission said in its order issued late Monday that the utilities have made a convincing case to temporarily reduce the eligibility cap for wind and solar projects only until these issues can be resolved.

“It is not the commission’s intent to push small wind and solar projects out of the market,” the commission said.

It told the utilities, developers and other parties to schedule an informal meeting within 10 days to gather evidence before a technical hearing in May.