Monday, March 29, 2010

Sage Grouse Not Protected by ESA, But Will Still Play Role in Western Energy Development (subscription required) March 29, 2010 by Jessica Ferrell

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “USFWS” or the “Service”) published its 12-month findings on three petitions to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The Service determined that listing the species is warranted under the ESA, but precluded at this time due to budget constraints and higher priority candidate species.

Despite the reprieve from an immediate ESA listing, developers – including energy developers – still confront a variety of federal, state, and local regulatory measures in the West related to sage grouse protection. The majority of regulatory restrictions on development activities will be dictated by: 1) the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), the agency responsible for managing over 50% of sage grouse habitat; and 2) to some extent, the affected states . . .

. . . As a “candidate” species, the sage grouse is not provided any protection under the ESA, but the Service will review the species’ status annually, with the expectation of listing it in the future if its status does not improve. However, based on the Service's ranking of the species, the likelihood of listing anytime soon is small, and the sage grouse will remain near the end of a line of approximately 250 candidate species awaiting listing. . .

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ante up, Idaho Power

Baker City Herald Editorial Board March 17, 2010

Idaho Power Company has drawn a lot of lines on maps, but the situation looks to us pretty much as it did a year ago: The Boise company wants to build a major transmission line through Baker County.

We’re not surprised. That was, after all, the company’s initial proposal.

We’re also not surprised that quite a few Baker County residents aren’t pleased that Idaho Power still seems to prefer a Baker County route, even though the company decided last year to basically start over and consider a variety of other options. . .

But we hope the company’s critics, along with county commissioners, will exert political pressure that prompts Idaho Power to both minimize the harmful effects of the transmission line and to fairly compensate affected property owners.

The top priority should be to avoid fouling the views from Baker Valley and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, thinks Idaho Power also should make regular payments to property owners whose land the power line crosses. We agree.

But we suggest one other, rather unorthodox, measure: Idaho Power should allow public access, for hunting and hiking, to the Daly Creek Ranch.

The company bought the 10,000-acre property near Richland in December 2006, but so far has kept it closed.

If we have to look at your towers, Idaho Power, at least let us walk around your property.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Summary Route Comparisons B2H Alternatives

Western Route
Central Route
Eastern Route
Land Use Characteristics
Private Land
138 Miles (50%)
172 Miles (61%)
206 Miles (69%)
Public Land
137 Miles (50%)
110 Miles (39%)
93 Miles (31%)
Follows Existing Corridors
46 Miles
58 Miles
111 Miles
New Corridor
229 Miles
224 Miles
188 Miles
Irrigated Cropland
10 miles
9 miles
22 miles
Forest Clearing
1,754 acres
1,763 acres
681 acres
Rugged Terrain (>25% slopes)
59 miles
56 miles
35 miles
Special Status Streams
46 crossings
13 crossings
8 crossings
Restrictive FS/BLM Visual Classes
9.1 miles
25.5 miles
8.6 miles
Important Issues
John Day Valley
West Side Baker County
Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
National Forests
Malheur and Umatilla (45 miles) New Corridor
Wallowa -Whitman (30 miles) New Corridor
Wallowa-Whitman but in a designated utility corridor (5 miles)
High Construction Difficulty
117.1 miles
99.3 miles
65.3 miles

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ida. Power still likes route near Trail Center

by Ed Merriman 3/5/2010

Local residents chastised Idaho Power officials during a public meeting Wednesday in Baker City for failing to make substantial changes to the proposed route of a transmission line near the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center east of town.

“Isn’t that almost the exact route Idaho Power proposed initially, following along I-84?” said Jim Eidson of Baker City. “I guess I’m wondering what’s different. What’s changed?”

About 70 people packed into the Senior Center, where Idaho Power officials showed slides of various proposed routes and described how factors such as construction difficulty, environmental and other permitting issues, as well as costs and public concerns were weighed in identifying the preferred routes to be submitted to the Bureau of Land Management for review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Idaho Power officials described the process they went through in eliminating alternate routes proposed by affected landowners and other area residents who want to keep the 130- to 140-foot-tall steel towers away from irrigated land zoned for exclusive farm use, and away from the viewshed around the Interpretive Center.

“The two things that really drive this is permitability and constructability,” said Bill Perry, an engineering consultant with Idaho Power. He described how alternate routes proposed by the public were assessed and compared to the routes Idaho Power proposed originally.

“We started the routing process in Baker City because Baker County had the most miles,” Perry said.

He said Idaho Power will accept written comments for two more weeks and then choose one or two routes to submit to state and federal agencies for review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“We tried to take the routes people proposed and looked at them to make sure we avoided all of the issues we could,” Perry said. “If there is something we have missed on these routes, we’d rather get it right now, than get corrected later.”

Despite widespread public opposition to Idaho Power’s initial proposal to build the transmission line near the Interpretive Center, Perry and other Idaho Power representatives told those attending the meeting that after looking at all of the other alternatives, that’s still the company’s preferred route.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” said Gary Marlette of Baker City, after he walked out of the meeting in frustration. “They are obviously planning to run the line wherever they want, and aren’t really paying any attention to public concerns.”

Nancy Peyron, who lives near the Interpretive Center and helped start the local group Move Idaho Power last year, also criticized the company for making what seems to her a mockery of the public advisory process. . .

At Wednesday’s meeting, Porter said PacificCorp has signed an agreement to work with Idaho Power on building the line, and that the Bonneville Power Administration is also considering joining the effort.

“This transmission line is important to the region,” Porter said. “It will benefit people and businesses in Oregon, Idaho and Washington.”

He said existing transmission lines between Boardman and the Treasure Valley are at maximum capacity, and the new line is needed to power a new data center planned for the Ontario area.

In response to questions from the audience, Porter said that other than the data center he isn’t aware of any need for additional power to accommodate growth or new industry across much of the route in Northeastern Oregon, such as Baker, Union and Grant counties.

While Idaho Power brought its public meeting portion of the public advisory process to a close this week with meetings in communities along proposed routes in five sections between Boardman and Hemingway, officials said written comments would be accepted until March 25. The address is: Kent McCarthy, Idaho Power Company, P.O. Box 70 1221 W. Idaho St., Boise, ID 83702. . .

General SIP Meeting April 5th

We will be holding a general meeting for Stop Idaho Power Monday evening April 5th at 7:00 p.m. in the Boulevard Grange hall southwest of Ontario on Hwy 201.

We will be discussing the following:
  • The final three route alternatives chosen by Idaho Power's Community Advisory Process.
  • Possible outcomes as these routes are put through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process.
  • The Oregon Public Utilities Commission Hearing for Need scheduled for April 20th in Ontario. Information as to place and time will be forthcoming.

Remember that the Hearing for Need addresses one of the EFSC (Oregon's Energy Facility Siting Council) standards for granting an application for building the B2H line. This is an opportunity for any individual or community along the proposed routes to make a case before the OPUC that this line is not needed and therefore should not be built.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Final Three Routes

click map for a larger view

March 9 - With the dissemination of Shaun Robertson's letter from John Day on Tuesday, we were interested to see how Idaho Power planned to handle this explosive issue at the final community advisory process South Team meeting at Ontario's Four Rivers Cultural Center. It was toward the beginning of the meeting, and they took it very seriously, a wise move.

While a number of senior Idaho Power officials and contracted employees have been genuine and honest with us, and actually listen to us, which we appreciate, there is also a contingent of employees and contractors within the company who do consider small town folks to be ignorant and easily pushed around.

Unfortunately, comments of the type heard in John Day have been heard in rural areas elsewhere but until now have not been reported. For IPC to investigate thoroughly, with repercussions, gives us the confidence that we are being taken seriously as community members.

This dichotomy of attitudes towards ruralites has been apparent from the beginning and has resulted in inexplicable, self-sabotaging moves by Idaho Power over the last 17 months, putting a strain on community relations and causing unnecessary and costly setbacks for the company. We hope these well-educated urbanites now realize that bullying and condescending behavior does not engender high opinion from those of us scratching a living from the hinterlands and supplying you with steamed vegetables and sliced beef for your dinner.

If B2H is a much-watched test case for future transmission line sitings, it would behoove any contemplation of those dealing with the public to assume that there is still rock-ribbed American independence alive and well out there, and deserving of respect, if understandably suspicious of stated motive and mandate.

As far as the three routes ultimately refined and accepted as alternates worthy of going forward with the NEPA and Oregon EFSC processes, it was pointed out at Tuesday's meeting by Stop Idaho Power's Roger Findley that had Idaho Power been listening to us from the beginning, they could have taken retired BLM botanist Jean Findley's public lands routes seriously and saved themselves a lot of time and money. Because that is what eventually has been accepted as viable.

We still intend to support Baker's Oregon Trail Interpretive Center against any and all encroachments by unwanted transmission line sitings.

Another bit of advice: If the contractor Tetra Tech had done its homework, they wouldn't have fed flawed constraint information into their route computation software and come up with an outrageous utility corridor marching through 50 miles of the most productive farmland east of Oregon's Cascades, a stone's throw from uninhabited public desert lands. The sheer audacity of the original route compounded and hardened the opposition of hundreds of Malheur County citizens in a way that a much more careful route would have certainly avoided.

If that homework included informed input by local citizens across the entire study area, then it would have paid to start out with that sort of input process from the beginning.

Barroom chat backfires for Idaho Power

Utility officials apologize about "disparaging statements" 3/10/2010 by Scott Callister

JOHN DAY - Boisterous comments made by Idaho Power officials over drinks in a local bar sparked a complaint to the utility and fueled new opposition to its proposed 500-kilovolt transmission line.

The comments - described as critical of local residents and their views - were heard at a gathering in the Outpost Restaurant bar March 2, after the utility's latest meeting in Grant County. In that citizens advisory group meeting, held in Canyon City, officials unveiled the three route alternatives left on the table, including one that would traverse western Grant County.

Kim Randleas, an owner of the Outpost, said about nine Idaho Power representatives gathered in the restaurant bar after the public meeting. She said their comments were "extremely vocal" and could easily be heard by other patrons.

The incident sparked a letter of protest from Shaun Robertson, another family member, to the CEO of Idaho Power. He said the revelers made disparaging comments about local residents and touted their ability to use eminent domain, which would allow Idaho Power to take private land for the transmission line without the owners' consent. . .

Randleas said Idaho Power officials apologized to her and to her parents, Bill and Janet Robertson, later in the week. She said she wasn't the one who needed an apology.

"I told them they needed to apologize to the public and to Grant County," Randleas said.

Vern Porter, the vice president of engineering and operations for Idaho Power, issued a statement last week noting appreciation for the community's efforts in the public advisory process. He said the negative statements described by Robertson's letter were "clearly not acceptable" and were being investigated.

"Integrity and respect are both values of Idaho Power and we expect all of our employees and contractors to exhibit them inside and outside of work settings," he said.

His comments were echoed in an e-mail from Lamont Keen, president and CEO of Idaho Power, who said the "disparaging statements and behavior following the project advisory team meeting ... are clearly not acceptable."

Both men said the incident is being investigated, and they promised "appropriate action" would be taken with those responsible. . .

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Transmission lines to skirt local valleys

By Larry Meyer 3/10/2010

ONTARIO — Malheur County and other valley residents heard Tuesday what they have been wanting to hear: The recommended routes for a major power transmission line from Idaho Power, from northeast Oregon to southwest Idaho, skirts the Malheur and Snake River valleys and takes in more public lands.

However, the siting process is far from complete. . .

The proposed westerly route crosses into Malheur County south of Adrian and crosses the hills over to the northwest corner of Harney County, to Grant County, and then up to Morrow County and on up to Boardman. “This is the shortest route,” Perry said.

Other alternatives stay in the Malheur, Baker, Union and Umatilla counties before ending up in Boardman, in Morrow County. . .

In response to the recommended routes, Roger Findley, co-chair of Stop Idaho Power, which has pressured the company to move its proposed routing out of the valley areas in Malheur County, said SIP is “guardedly optimistic” about the decision to put the B2H route on BLM land.

“SIP has suggested for over a year this is where it should go,” Findley said.

Noting the community advisory process has ended, Findley said, in a statement released at the CAP meeting, “There are two general outcomes from NEPA. First, the route will be accepted by all parties, and that is where the route will go. Or, second, the route will be contested by one of the parties involved through lawsuits, and the routes may end back up on private agricultural land.”

While SIP is hoping for the best case, Findley said the worst case could happen, and he urged Stop Idaho Power members to be diligent and be prepared to participate in the process to make sure the transmission line does not cross exclusive farm use land in Malheur County. . .

Sage grouse will stay off protected list

by Jim Tankersley 3/5/2010 Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The greater sage grouse, an icon of the West's dwindling sagebrush landscapes, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act but won't be for at least another year, Interior Department officials announced Friday.

Instead the department issued a so-called "warranted but precluded" designation for the greater sage grouse, meaning that the bird meets scientific criteria for protection but that other species are a higher priority. Its status will be reviewed annually.

Listing the grouse as endangered or threatened could have frozen oil and gas projects across western states such as Wyoming, and likely would have ended greater sage grouse hunting, permitted by several states.

The designation leaves greater sage grouse management largely in the hands of state officials. . .

"We must find common-sense ways of protecting, restoring and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species' survival," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in announcing the decision, "while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources" . . .

Investigation into incident

We were assured by Idaho Power officials at the South CAP meeting Tuesday evening that the incident in John Day last week would be thoroughly investigated. We were given other information that two senior vice presidents visited The Outpost Trading Company Pizza, Pub and Grill to apologize for the reported behavior of several Idaho Power employees.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Letter from John Day

March 3, 2010

J. LaMont Keen, President/CEO
c/o Piper Hyman, Communication Specialist
Idaho Power/IDACORP, Inc.

C. Stephen Allred, Managing Member
c/o Echo Chadwick, Director of Corporate Communication



Dear Mssrs. Keen and Allred:

The purpose of this correspondence is to express my extreme displeasure with the actions of your employees following Idaho Power Company’s (IPC) Community Advisory Process meeting held in Grant County, Oregon on March 2, 2010. I understand that some or all of your employees, who represented IPC at the meeting, adjourned to a local restaurant where they proceeded to make disparaging, slanderous, and threatening remarks regarding local residents in an openly hostile manner in front of employees and patrons. Among other demeaning and bigoted statements, your employees’ remarks included such comments as:

“I could care less what these people say; we have the power to just take away their property and not even deal with them”

“The moderator of the meeting should have just told [one of the participants] to shut the f*** up”

Furthermore, I understand that your representatives also made numerous negative characterizations of the way local residents speak, denigrated Grant County and its citizens generally, and called into question the education and intelligence of meeting attendees and others from the community.

The employees of the establishment where this embarrassing display occurred are reluctant to come forward publically out of fear of reprisal from your employees. As far as I am concerned, restaurants are public places and the statements made by your representatives in that setting were public comments directly reflective upon IPC and IDACORP, Inc. Since this is clearly a matter of public concern, I am distributing this correspondence widely to ensure that each member of our community and our elected representatives understand what transpired, the attitude of the Company towards our community, and the strategy of imminent domain that IPC apparently is pursuing. I also intend to raise this matter with the State and Federal agencies overseeing the permitting and approval of your project as an example of the social injustice and potential civil rights issues that your Company’s public expressions signify.

What remains to be seen is only whether responsible officials from your Company will take immediate action to investigate this inexcusable and reprehensible behavior and the level of punitive actions that will be levied against the culpable employees. Lacking an appropriate, responsible, and commensurate reaction from your Company, I hope and beg that our elected officials explore possible sanctions against your Company and take immediate action to directly prohibit IPC from pursuing the measures suggested by your representatives, including an immediate moratorium on the use of imminent domain for the purpose of locating transmissions lines.

I own property in the path of one of your proposed routes. I notified your Company on December 2, 2009, of how disappointed I was with the attitude of some of your employees and how their behavior was not consistent with my prior experiences with IPC. Now, regarding the latter, it appears that I was mistaken and the prejudice of your Company against our community is much more widespread than I initially believed. Now, based on the continuing actions of your Company and its representatives, I am stating to you emphatically that I refuse to cooperate with your Company in the siting of any line through Grant County. Furthermore, I pledge to you that if your Company attempts to take any of my property through adverse condemnation I personally will use every means available to me, legal or otherwise, to keep you from stealing what my family and I have worked our entire lives to put together and what we hold so dear.

Regretfully yours,

Shaun W. Robertson

cc: list

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Local group expresses concern over AEHI

by Brandi Stromberg March 2nd

PAYETTE — People for Payette’s Future Inc., and Snake River Alliance held a public meeting Monday afternoon at the Payette County Courthouse to voice their concerns on a proposed nuclear-generated power plant.

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., has proposed to construct a nuclear-generated power plant in Payette County on Little Willow Road and Stone Quarry Road and has been in the process of gaining approval since October.

“We are asking the county to amend the comprehensive plan map to show the property being considered as potentially eligible for a rezone from agriculture to industrial,” JoAnn Butler, attorney for AEHI, said. “Our aim is to ask for that rezone to allow the location of an independent nuclear power production facility, that is an industrial use, that will manufacture and sell power to utilities and end users.”

Butler, Snake River Alliance and People for Payette’s Future were the presenters at the meeting Monday.

“Our organization is opposed to the amendment of the comprehensive plan as proposed by the current applicant because it would violate specific provisions by the Idaho Local Land Use Planning Act,” Jim Underwood, PPF, said. “Idaho law requires the county to conduct an inclusive comprehensive planning process designed to prepare, implement and review and update a comprehensive plan.”

. . . PPF made some recommendations to the county during its closing statements. . .

The first recommendation is that the county take the time to do it right. Members said a development of this scale and complexity with such far reaching and lasting impacts on the county deserves to be done right. . .

The second recommendation was that the county bring the Payette County Comprehensive Plan into compliance with Idaho law. PPF said it recommends commissioners remand to the Planning and Zoning Commission or to a special task force.

The third recommendation was that the county investigate the creation of a power plant industrial park on government land. . .

The last recommendation was to invite power plant development proposals from energy industry leaders. . .

The public hearing will be held open until 5 p.m. March 9. The hearing will be closed at 7 p.m. March 22 at the Payette County Courthouse where the commissioners will hold the final hearing, and make their decision.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Brewing Tempest Over Wind Power

People living near turbines increasingly report sleep deprivation, headaches and vertigo. The wind lobby says there's no proof. By Robert Bryce

. . . The Obama administration has made the increased use of wind power to generate electricity a top priority. In 2009 alone, U.S. wind generation capacity increased by 39%. But more wind power means more giant turbines closer to more people. And if current trends continue, that spells trouble.

In 2007, a phalanx of wind turbines were built around Charlie Porter's property in rural northern Missouri. Soon, Mr. Porter began to have trouble sleeping. So did his wife and daughter. The noise, he told me, made sleeping almost impossible. "We tried everything—earplugs, leaving the TV station on all night." Nothing worked. Late last year he moved his family off their 20-acre farm.

Mr. Porter's story is no isolated event. Rural residents in Texas, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and England have been complaining about the noise from wind turbines, particularly about sleep deprivation. Dozens of news stories—most of them published in rural newspapers—have documented the problem. . .

The wind lobby has publicly rejected these claims. . .