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Idaho Power branches into solar energy plant

The utility that built its business on hydroelectric power in the 1950s and ’60s and expanded with coal plants in the 1970s and ’80s will complete a natural gas plant next year.

But Idaho Power has no experience building or operating the renewable technology that is expanding worldwide.

So it plans to build a pilot photovoltaic solar plant that will give it the expertise it needs for the technology that already has risen over the horizon. Idaho Power also has approved two contracts to buy power from solar developers.

The focus comes as the company’s interest in renewable wind power has waned. One difference? Predictability.

Idaho Power’s interest in solar comes from the shape of the sun’s power curve. It rises just as people wake up and start using appliances.

Solar power peaks in the summer when customers are using air conditioners and farmers are running pumps to irrigate their crops. This is when electricity is most expensive on the open market.

Wind power comes and goes — making it harder to integrate into the overall picture, the company has said.

“The shape of solar’s load has a lot more value to us,” said Mark Stokes, Idaho Power’s power supply planning manager.

After being urged by many Idaho and Northwest groups, Idaho Power included solar options in the integrated resource management plan it presented to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission recently.

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