Global Warming: Idaho’s PUC and Wildfires

by Judy Ferro

             I wasn’t going to write about forest fires this week.  I was thinking of writing about the education bill before Congress or recent polls on parties and issue. 

               Then I saw that Idaho’s Public Utilities Commission had granted Idaho Power’s request to drop requirements for long-term contracts with producers of renewable energy.

                I’m shrieking.  The West is on fire.  Shell is drilling in the Arctic. Methane is seeping from under melting polar ice.  And Big Oil is threatening –conspiring?  planning?– to move Canadian tar sands oil through old, existing pipelines if  a new one isn’t approved.  
                So the IPUC decides it’s time to strangle private funding for solar power?  
                Apparently, the Commission agreed that Idaho Power’s customers might end up paying too much under 20-year contracts if the price of energy goes DOWN.
                Fat chance.   
                The Commission could have limited contracts to 10 or 12 years.  They could have called for adjustments if the price of power actually did decrease.  .    
                Instead, they limited the length of contracts to TWO YEARS.
                Do you think investors are willing to loan money knowing that payments of a 20-year-loan are guaranteed for only the first two years?  
                I don’t understand why Idaho Power—which gets some power from coal-fired plants—isn’t ecstatic to purchase solar power.  If I ran IP, I’d be offering rebates to every homeowner willing to let the company install solar panels on their roofs.  We would be offering financing on electric cars and selling California companies megawatts by the millions. 
                Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of acres in Washington, California, Montana, Oregon, and Idaho are burning.  Washington’s fires alone—declared an “unprecedented cataclysm”—have stricken 11 counties and four Indian reservations.
                Because of our reliance on fossil fuels.
                A new study co-authored by University of Idaho associate professor John Abatzoglou concludes that man-caused Global Warming is a factor in drought and fires.  Although the lack of rain in California may be a natural occurrence, other factors–temperature, wind speed, solar radiation, and humidity—contribute to the seriousness of droughts.  The study indicates that human activity is responsible for 8 to 27% of these factors, amplifying both the frequency and severity of the damage.  
                A recent Idaho Statesman column by Alyson R. Martin of Boise’s Climate Reality stated that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air barely changed from the advent of use of fossil fuels until 2012, but increased from 296 ppm to 401 ppm between 2012 and 2015.  She fears that this is enough to trigger the release of methane—25 times more damaging that CO2—from the permafrost in arctic regions.
                A secondary lesson from these fires is, as Derek Farr of Better Idaho puts it, “the Sagebrush Rebellion has gone up in smoke.”  Those for Idaho taking control of its Federal lands claim that Idaho can manage land better than the Feds and bring firefighting costs down.  Yet, Farr’s data indicate that Federal lands made up less than 10% of acres burned the first week of the Clearwater Complex; the remainder was state, tribal, or private lands.  
                So, as Gov. Otter has stated, if Idaho owned more of the land, we would be taking money from schools and roads to pay for fire fighting,  Farr goes farther by stating that, when more cuts weren’t possible, Idaho would sell our forests.  “That’s not a bug of the land grabbers’ misguided policies.  It’s a feature.”
                There is every indication that we’ll see more frequent and worse wildfires in coming years.  This is not the time to discourage private investment in solar and wind energy.