Idaho Power partners for power-scheduling program

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO - Idaho Power Co. is working with other Western electric utilities to develop a dynamic scheduling system making it easier to shift electricity among them all.

Ron Schellberg, a consulting engineer with the company, said the system will shorten the time it takes to buy and sell energy on the market, collapsing a process that can now take months into only a couple of minutes. The result, he said, will be greater flexibility to changes in the power grid — especially targeted at resources such as wind and solar power that don't always provide consistent output.

In all, 17 utilities are currently signed on to the project, Schellberg said. A core group including Idaho Power, Bonneville Power Administration and Seattle City Light started developing the system in August, he said, and is currently searching for a vendor to help put it together. The system could be launched by the first quarter of 2010.

Simplifying the now-cumbersome power transactions should make it less risky for utilities to make power available for sale, the engineer said.

"By removing a lot of that risk, there'll be a greater volume of this type of energy transaction," Schellberg said.

And it will give utilities a better way to address a host of issues — variable energy sources and growing demand among them. Power plants may become more regional resources, including Idaho Power's 250-megawatt Langley Gulch natural gas plant, proposed to be built near New Plymouth by 2012.

Vern Porter, the company's general manager of power production, said the plant would primarily be a "peaker plant" — a resource to help deal with high peak demand, much like another recently put in Mountain Home. But he also expects it would help provide more power for businesses moving in to Idaho, and would help stabilize a combined 600 MW of current and projected wind power generation.

"When we have a resource like wind that's going up and down all the time, we need something with some flexibility to it to act in the opposite direction," Porter said.

The new plant would cost $427 million to build, and is currently being reviewed by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

Commissioners will decide whether the plant will be built and how the costs would be recouped from ratepayers.

Both projects continue the utility's efforts to deal with recent customer growth and new types of energy after decades of relying on its network of hydropower dams.

"Timely completion of Langley is really critical to meeting current and future needs, and in the most responsible way possible," spokeswoman Stephanie McCurdy said.


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