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The future of Idaho Falls’ power

Idaho Falls Power is working hard to provide more clean energy to the city, and it’s on its way to self-sufficient-power.

The old lower power plant was restored to its normal operations last month after being closed for about five years. Now this month, work is being done on the upper plant to remove the sediment blocking the water flow. Along with these recent projects, Idaho Falls Power is excited to have the added efficiency and opportunity to continue the growth of Idaho Falls.

“The state of our facilities are in fantastic state. The staff does a great job of keeping the maintenance up on them and keeping them running. The last two projects we’ve had, the investment in the old lower project as well as the upper power plant, that were funded by rates — they’re cash-funded, they’re paid for — are great examples of how the community is taking such good care of those assets that keep our power rates low,” said Idaho Falls Power general manager Jackie Flowers.

The hydropower facilities have helped in keeping power rates low. At this time of year, Idaho Falls is one-third self-sufficient, as the city also uses power from other clean sources. Idaho Falls’ self-sufficiency depends on the weather and the water flow.

Adding these sources of power to Idaho Falls can only mean good things. Right now, Idaho Falls Power is working on generating even more power to the city by taking out blockages from the upper plant to get more water flow.

“We’re sitting in a really good spot for economic development with future businesses that may want to relocate here. Particularly, if they’re interested in a clean power portfolio, we get almost all of our energy from clean sources, nuclear, hydropower and wind,” said Flowers.

And Idaho Falls power will sit in an even better place once construction to the upper power plant is completed.

“We’ve been noticing over the last couple of years that we’ve had a half megawatt loss of generation in the upper power plant — the upper bulb,” said Idaho Falls Power engineering manager Richard Malloy.

As it turns out, sediment build-up was the reason for the low water flow, so Idaho Falls Power is getting rid of the blockage.

“It’s part of having a hydro facility where you have sediment loading that you have to go in periodically and remove it. This is the first time in 35 years that we’ve had to do so,” said Malloy.

Cleaning out the build-up will bring in more megawatts for the city to use.

“With the improvements that we’ve seen completed this year, both at the old lower plant and the upper plant, that additional four megawatts of generation is enough to power 3,200 homes. So, we’re just excited to have that additional efficiency in our system,” Flowers said.

The use of this clean energy is great for those who pay for it, and a great factor that may bring more people and businesses to the city.

In addition to the power sources Idaho Falls already has, the city may bring in a small modular reactor in the future. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is on track to build the first new scale small modular reactor. The technology is being checked, and design certifications are in the works of being submitted.

Idaho Falls is a part of UAMPS and has the potential of taking power from the small modular reactor.

“Commissioning dates are in the early 2020s, I think it’s a 2024-time frame, so we’ve got a lot of tasks that have to be accomplished and permits that have to be sought after. But we are in the early conversations of that. And again, having that generation source closer to our community just provides us with a little more resilience,” said Flowers.

The small modular reactor would generate power 24-7. If it does come to Idaho Falls, it would allow the city to be less reliant on transmission lines, and will give the city a more direct connection to the generating source. The Idaho National Lab is being considered as the preferred location to build the reactor.

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