Idacorp is powering the future of hydroelectric energy

Kelly Dawson
April 17, 2018
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Idacorp is part of our Renewable Energy portfolio.

  • Idacorp is made up of three primary subsidiaries: The Idaho Power Company, Idacorp Financial, and Ida-West Energy Company
  • Hydroelectric power is the key to the company’s success, and the reason why customer rates are consistently low
  • Idacorp is working on divesting from plants that are mainly powered by coal and other fossil fuels by 2025

Think about an American city that’s currently getting a lot of buzz. This is a place where young people are moving and jobs are growing at a steady rate. It’s where crime rates are low and inventive restaurants are on the rise.

And we’re thinking it probably isn’t a place that’s currently on your mind.

Boise, Idaho is the buzzworthy American city that has recently seen its popularity stocks rise, and that can be surprising to some — especially those who guessed Portland, Oregon or Nashville, Tennessee. But it’s true. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Idaho has seen its population grow more than any other state over the last year, and most of that surge is centered on its capital. People are drawn here for the low costs of living and the beauty of the outdoors, as well as a mix of things to do within a small-town setting. Heck, even Voguewrote about how cool it is.

But here’s the thing about a destination that gets a fair share of buzz: It has to generate some of its own, too. And Boise can thank Idacorp for the type of hum that keeps this city and its statewide neighbors comfortable at the top. Idacorp is a holding company made up of three primary subsidiaries. The Idaho Power Company is the biggest of the three and operates as a regulated source for electricity. Then there’s Idacorp Financial, which invests in historical buildings, real estate, and affordable housing projects. Lastly, Ida-West Energy Company oversees small hydroelectric generation projects. We’re mostly going to discuss the Idaho Power Company, since it is Idacorp’s principal subsidiary.

Idacorp has recognized Idaho’s resources long before transplants came knocking. The business as it stands has been around for 20 years, but the Idaho Power Company in particular has been illuminating Boise and statewide locations (as well as parts of neighboring Oregon) for a century. It counts more than a half-million people amongst its customers, and oversees an area measuring 24,000 square miles. It is also one of the few investor-owned electric utility operations in the country.

This place may be new to the cultural spotlight, but Idacorp knows a thing or two about the area’s power. After all, it’s been capitalizing on it to the point of more than a billion dollars in revenue as it generates, transmits, distributes, buys, and sells power throughout the state and its surroundings. So what’s been going on behind the scenes of Idaho’s boom? Let’s take a look at one of its lasting local brands.

Snakes, I (love) snakes

The Snake River winds through the Pacific Northwest along some of the nation’s most beautiful natural settings. At more than 1,000 miles long, it is the largest river to empty into the Pacific Ocean on the continent, and it counts all of four states among its home turf: Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho. It is, of course, important to the last state in that lineup, because it is the backbone of the southern division’s source of power.

In 1916, the Idaho Power Company began on the Snake River, and still operates on its banks today. Currently, there are 17 hydroelectric plants on the river and its tributaries in Southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon. The crux of this system can be found in at the Hells Canyon Complex, a point on the river of the same visual name, and it’s where three dams converge. All of these plants use water pressure to spin turbines that generate electricity, but the Hells Canyon Complex is a bit different. Thanks to the pressure found here during a normal year — so when enough rain and snowpack can be found on the river — Idaho Power Company receives about 70 percent of its yearly hydraulic generation.

Hydroelectric plants are the main focus of the company’s sources of power, but its business does work on land, too. Idaho Power Company also oversees three natural gas-fired plants in Southern Idaho and has joint-ownership in three more coal-fired steam electric generating plants in the surrounding states of Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming.

All of these operations function with help from more than 2,000 employees, and they primarily serve residential properties throughout Idaho and Oregon. General businesses like those in healthcare, recreation, and agriculture depend on the company’s power, too, as do brands in electronics, manufacturing, and food processing. Then there’s irrigation services, which make up the last sliver of the company’s 535,000 customers. About 9,000 residences were added to the roster last year, alongside 1,000 commercial customers, and 300 irrigation customers.

Hydroelectric power is the key to the company’s success, and the reason why customer rates are consistently low. It comprised 38.7 percent of the total electricity that customers received in 2016. On the other hand, 24.4 percent of that delivered electricity was generated by coal, while the rest was made up by natural gas and diesel (10.4 percent) and purchased power (26.5 percent). Although hydroelectric power is sustainable in its own right, and the company is investing more in solar and wind operations, its dependence on coal is a part of an ongoing conversation about its future. And since the state is in the midst of change, it’s interesting to note that its namesake power company is, too.

Power through

“I don’t ever see us out of carbon 100 percent,” Darrel Anderson, the CEO of Idacorp and Idaho Power said in 2017. “I don’t think that’s viable with the technology that’s available today. But I do believe we can move toward a carbon-light future, and that’s the direction we’re headed.”

Idacorp is working on divesting in plants that are mainly powered by coal and other fossil fuels, which includes pushing to close the North Valmy Power Plant in Nevada that it co-owns by 2025.

It’s also working to protect its largest source of power, the Snake River, with the Snake River Stewardship Program. This ongoing program will ensure that the river and its tributaries will retain its sediment, habitats, and natural flow as much as possible, which will improve the lives of animals and the wellbeing of the water. Its progress along the Snake River takes agricultural precautions into account, too, and Idaho Power has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and farmers to lessen the runoff that reaches the current.

All of these projects — which are intertwined with community education, improved operational systems, and more sustainable equipment — are done in the hope that Idaho Power will be a part of the state’s seemingly bright future. It knew long before popular commentary that this place had a certain spark, and it has promised to protect that spark as more people discover it.

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