Natural gas and wind power will carry the future operations of Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities for its 115,000 customers in north Idaho, although gas will account for a bigger share of the load, the utility stressed in its latest integrated resource plan (IRP) filed with state regulators. Those two sources will provide the added 272 average megawatts (aMW) that Avista estimates it will need by 2017.

The utility has expressed a renewed emphasis on more gas-fired generation, prompted by increased governmental mandates against coal and more recent cost spikes for the materials/equipment used in wind generation facilities.

Since the legislature in its home state -- Washington -- passed a new law discouraging any new traditional coal-fired power generation, Avista told the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that it has abandoned previous plans to develop new coal-fired facilities. Avista recently updated its IRP as it is required to do every two years.

"Avista decided to drop plans for future coal-fired generation for several reasons," an Idaho PUC spokesperson said. Besides the new law in the state where it has most of it electric utility customers, the utility also "anticipates federal legislation in the near future that will place further limits on carbon emissions."

Noting that it has the eighth smallest carbon footprint among major U.S. utilities, Avista told Idaho regulators it has responded to the carbon-constrained future by substituting "fixed-price natural gas resources for coal-based resources," the PUC spokesperson said.

"The company had hoped for additional wind and other renewable sources beyond the 335 MW already planned," the PUC spokesperson said. "But wind development, the company said, has been hampered by a dramatic increase in cost of wind resources since 2005. Recent legislation in Oregon, Washington and other states that mandates a certain percentage of generation from renewable sources has increased the demand for wind turbines, reducing their availability and increasing their price."

In addition, Avista told the PUC it was increasing its contribution from conservation programs by 85% from the 2003 IRP and 25% since the 2005 plan. Avista expects the equivalent of 87 MW of energy-saving programs in the years ahead.

The Idaho PUC said it will be collecting public and stakeholder comments on the Avista IRP through Jan. 17.

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