The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has scheduled three days of hearings starting Tuesday. Lawyers, utility executives and environmentalists are all sure to be in attendance.
State electricity regulators will hear evidence regarding long-running and bitter disputes between utilities such as Idaho Power Co. and independent wind, solar and bio-gas developers. The oucome could set the course for Idaho's renewables industry for years to come.
Regulators hope to determine how to set the price utilities must pay renewables developers for their power and whether utilities can refuse to buy power from alternative projects when relatively few people are using electricity. Also discussed will be the issue of whether lucrative environmental credits that accompany renewables energy projects should be the property of the utilities or renewables developers.
Utilities say they deserve the environmental credits, but independent producers like Clearwater Paper Corp. say utilities seek to take private property without paying for it.
The utilities argue that wind producers like Exergy have abused a 1978 law known as Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA, to secure attractive contracts for their energy, driving up costs for ratepayers and making the energy supply less predictable and reliable.