Utility company liable for damages in Oregon fires asks to defer costs in Idaho 

Conservationist warns filing could open door to Rocky Mountain Power passing on costs to Idaho customers

By: - July 13, 2023 4:30 am
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Rocky Mountain Power is asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for the right to defer costs associated with wildfires in Oregon in 2020 that that company was found liable for. (Robert Zullo/States Newsroom)

A utility company that was found liable for damages from September 2020 wildfires in Oregon has filed a request that reserves the right for the company to attempt to recoup some of the damages from Idaho customers at a future date. 

On June 21, attorneys for Rocky Mountain Power filed a request with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to defer the accounting of the company’s costs associated with wildfire damages. 

“The company is not seeking recovery of these costs from customers at this time and does not expect to determine if it will seek recovery until the appeals process has concluded,” Rocky Mountain Power’s attorneys wrote in their request. “The deferred accounting application enables the company to preserve its ability to seek recovery in the future in the event the outcome could potentially impact the financial stability of the company, which would result in higher costs to customers.”

Without the request, the company would not be able to seek recovery of its costs at a later date, Idaho Public Utilities Commission public information officer Adam Rush said. 

“Rocky Mountain Power is asking for the right to defer costs associated with the fires,” Rush said in a written statement. “If approved, the costs will be put into an account that will be reviewed later by commission staff and interested parties and make recommendations to the commission to determine if those costs are reasonable for recovery and how they might be recovered.”

After 2020 fires in Oregon counties, plaintiffs file suit against PacifiCorp

Following destructive wildfires in 2020 that caused damages and destroyed homes in multiple Oregon counties, a number of plaintiffs filed suit against PacifiCorp, which is the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power. The suits alleged that the company’s facilities caused the fires and the company should have shut off service to its customer to prevent the fires from spreading, according to Rocky Mountain Power’s request with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. 

A conservationist from the Idaho Conservation League says that Rock Mountain Power shouldn’t be allowed to pass on the company’s wildfire damages to Idaho customers. 

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“Utilities provide invaluable service to customers, but customers should only pay for costs that are reasonable and just,” Brad Heusinkveld, an energy associate with Idaho Conservation League, said in a written statement. “A jury determined that these damages were caused by PacifiCorp’s gross negligence and recklessness. Idaho ratepayers should not pay for the company’s mistakes, let alone those in another state.”

A jury in the case James v. PacifiCorp found the company is liable for about $90 million in damages to the initial plaintiffs, Rocky Mountain Power said. However, the case was recently expanded to a class action lawsuit, with Rocky Mountain Power’s attorneys writing in their request that additional claims are likely. 

“The potential magnitude of the claims may exceed normal costs anticipated by PacifiCorp and included in its retail rates, and could also far exceed the reasonable business risk associated with these claims,” Rocky Mountain Power’s attorney’s wrote. 

Rocky Mountain Power is a division of PacifiCorp that serves 87,000 customers in Idaho. Rocky Mountain Power also serves more than 1 million customers in Utah and 144,000 customers in Wyoming, according to the company.  

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will evaluate Rocky Mountain Power’s request to defer costs from the wildfires and make a decision, Rush said. As part of the process, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission would issue dates for public comments to be submitted or, if a hearing is requested, determine if a hearing is warranted. 

Any recovery of costs would be a separate action and would be subject to a prudence review and a final decision on rate recovery in a future regulatory filing, Rush said.  

Rocky Mountain Power’s request and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission’s decision and staff comments will be posted on the commission’s website.


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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.