Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BPA drops out of Oregon transmission line to Idaho

by Rocky Barker 5/18/2010

The Bonneville Power Administration has told Idaho Power it doesn’t plan to participate in the proposed Boardman (Ore.) to Hemingway transmission project.

BPA had been looking at joining Idaho Power and perhaps Pacificorp in the line that will connect the Idaho utility near Melba with BPA-control federal hydropower near the Columbia River and wind energy resources in the Columbia Gorge. The line also would allow Idaho Power to sell its power in the winter to BPA, which is peaking at that time of the year. Idaho Power peaks in the summer during the height of the irrigation season.

But BPA decided to stick with its current deal, paying Idaho Power to “wheel” its power through its service area to electrical coops and the Idaho Falls city electrical system it serves in southern and eastern Idaho and Wyoming.

The decision had nothing to do with the controversy that has erupted in Oregon over the proposed power line, BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said.

BPA has not completely ruled out joining in and is asking its coop and utility customers for comments on its decision.

Meanwhile, Idaho Power has moved its proposed route away from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker in response to concerns raised by residents there. But the new route still can be seen from the center and residents urged Idaho Power to consider another route that runs through a sage grouse lek area, where the birds mate, which state officials will not approve.

In other transmission news, Rocky Mountain Power energized its first portion of the Gateway transmission line project that it is building across Idaho. The first leg is in Utah according to the Idaho State Journal.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Payette County paves way for proposed nuclear plant

May 5, 2010 - In a unanimous decision last week, Payette County commissioners approved a change to the county's comprehensive plan that represented a major hurdle for Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc.'s efforts to build a nuclear plant there. The commissioners' action raises some concerns for Emmett residents.

"This important decision sets the stage for the final step for approval of a large advanced nuclear power plant and also gives a strong indication of support by county leaders resulting in a win-win for AEHI stakeholders including the many benefits to the county, state and region for low-cost, clean, reliable power, not to mention rewarding our investors for their support," AEHI CEO Don Gillispie said.

The change creates a footprint for industrial uses in an area once designated for the sole purpose of agriculture. More specifically, the wording will allow for an industrial complex on a 5,000-acre parcel near Big Willow Road and Stone Quarry Road, just a few miles from New Plymouth, as long as that industrial purpose involves a nuclear power plant.

"This vote affirms the will of the majority of residents of Payette County who have told us and the commissioners they want a nuclear power plant in their community. They want the jobs and the financial stability for the towns in which they live - something our plant can and will create," Gillispie said.

Idaho Downwinders Director Tona Henderson, of Emmett, is concerned on two fronts:
"What will they do with the waste from the nuclear plant? There are 103 nuclear plants in operation (in America) right now," Henderson said. Most of these locations have been storing the waste on-site, some for as many as 30 years. There are reports that some containers have begun to leak, Henderson said. "I'm concerned the waste from the Payette site would be stored on site."

Henderson's second concern has to do with the geography of the area. About 40 years ago, the Idaho Geological Survey did a study of oil and gas reserves in southwest Idaho, according to a book Henderson has read.

Idaho Power plan angers residents

by Chris Collins 5/7/2010

Baker County residents again came away disappointed after a three-hour session in which Idaho Power Co. officials laid out plans for construction of a 500-kilovolt transmission line from Boardman to Hemingway, Idaho.

Idaho Power announced last month that its preferred route will travel about a mile east of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Earlier reports set the distance at a half-mile from the interpretive center.

Still, members of the Baker County group Move Idaho Power and other residents of Baker and Union counties told company officials they are not happy with the plan.

“You want to pass right through, pick up all you can that’s worth money and drive on down the road,” she said. We’re not happy about that.”

The Baker County session was one of a series of Project Advisory Team meetings scheduled by Idaho Power throughout the region to present the proposed route and to outline future steps in the process. The company next will submit its plan to the Bureau of Land Management to begin the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

The advisory groups were established last spring after Idaho Power took its original plan, which was to build the line west of the interpretive center and into the view of Baker Valley, off the table because of community opposition. At that time, Idaho Power agreed to start fresh with Boardman and Hemingway as the only two points on the siting map.

During the past year, the company considered about 450 comments from members of the advisory groups in making its routing decision, Kent McCarthy, Idaho Power Co.’s community advisory process leader, told the Baker County audience.

The route was moved to accommodate Baker County concerns about its proximity to the interpretive center and its placement to the west of the center, McCarthy said. The newly proposed route crosses Highway 86 about a third of a mile east of the center’s entryway and angles north to within about a mile of the center, McCarthy said.

The company is required by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to maintain a two-mile buffer around identified sage grouse leks, he said. That prevents Idaho Power from moving the transmission line farther from the center.

“As of January, ODFW reclassified an old sage grouse lek and made it impossible,” McCarthy said. “We’d love to go another three miles.”

Timm told McCarthy to try harder to persuade ODFW of the need to move the proposed route.

“You argue with us and put it where we don’t want it,” she said. “Why don’t you argue with them for a while.”

Timm also suggested perhaps county residents could oppose Idaho Power Co.’s relicensing application for its operations on the Hells Canyon dams when it is next up for renewal if the company refuses to compromise further on the proposed route.

“There’s a thousand other places you could probably go — pick one,” Timm told the company representatives to the applause of many in the audience.

“And on public land,” came a shout from the crowd.

Jim Eidson agreed with Peyron and Timm about the company’s apparent lack of regard for input it has received from Baker County residents over the past year.

“We are pretty much asking you not to bring it to Baker County,” Eidson said. “It looks like this is the meeting to tell us what you’ve decided to do. You could have saved us 10 to 15 meetings by telling us a long time ago.”

David Angell, Idaho Power’s manager of delivery planning, reminded the audience that Idaho Power has no choice but to comply with environmental restrictions.

“It doesn’t mean that we stop there,” he said. “What we can do is work going forward to adjust the route to getting as close as we can to something doable. Sage grouse leks and other habitat ... those are things we would have to work with the agencies on.”

And Idaho Power will meet with every landowner affected by the proposal, before any construction begins, McCarthy told the crowd. Idaho Power will seek a 250-foot right of way to property crossed by the transmission line and proposes a lease of a minimum of 40 years and possibly twice that with property owners, Angell said.

Baker County Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr. said during Wednesday’s meeting that the county would receive additional property taxes of about $600,000 from the Idaho Power project.

In an interview Thursday, Warner said about $250,000 to $260,000 would go to the county budget and the remainder would be divided among the county’s special districts for services such as fire protection and libraries, he said.

Warner said he hopes the county can persuade ODFW to allow Idaho Power to move the line farther from the Interpretive Center.

“It’s too close,” Warner said. “From three miles it could be visible, but not very visible.”

Warner said he hopes to employ several strategies to achieve the best outcome for Baker County and its residents.

“Can it be done? I don’t know. But we’re sure gonna try,” he said.

Warner said he also hopes to ensure that Idaho Power Co. makes annual lease payments to landowners whose property is affected rather than a lump-sum payment. He has proposed that the company hire an ombudsman to work for Baker County to represent the landowners in lease negotiations.

“I don’t particularly want (the transmission line) in Baker County,” he said. “But our goal is the least impact on the viewshed and the people it affects.

“We’re just trying to make the best of what’s probably not a very good situation,” he said.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nobody Talks About the Land

'This is an excellent and moving article on how many of us view our land. Oregon's land use laws are unique in the world, and I believe our laws originated from this type of thought. It is unfortunate that this "long distance energy swapping for profit" mindset is intruding on our private land...' Nancy Peyron, Baker City

As part of my education about high voltage power lines, I have watched a couple of Webcasts of hearings and panel discussions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy.

I have watched these discussions, and I’ve heard lots of talk about the environment, green this and green that, “renewables” (one of those ugly nouns stolen from an adjective) and lots of other Washington jargon. In all of these discussions, I have not once heard anyone talk about the land. Everyone talks about transmission lines as though they were just wires. They refer to coal as just another fuel without any mention of where that coal comes from or what it really costs to mine it.

I live on a farm in Calhoun County, West Virginia. When I talk with my neighbors about deer hunting, building fence or hauling hay, they never refer to my land or my property, they say, “Those deer ran through you.” Those of you who live in a city or suburbs may not understand the world view that this way of thinking reflects. It is, however, very real where I live.

We see our land as part of “us.” This is not some kind of modern “eco-awareness.” It is a cultural view of the world that connects back through time to the peasant cultures of Europe and the culture of people native to North America. Those cultures still resonate strongly in rural West Virginia, as they do in other parts of our country.

What does this have to do with power lines?

The PATH power line will take more than 6000 acres of West Virginia land out of productive use by living, breathing West Virginia families.

Now think of the people who own, live on and work that land. Each of those families have lived with that land, some for all their lives. Living with a piece of land is a privilege. It is a relationship, just like a relationship with a friend or someone in your family.

Living with a piece of land means that you shape that piece of land to meet the needs of your family and perhaps to make a little money. You build fence, perhaps some buildings, maybe a pond. You build and restore your soil with manures, compost, fertilizer and lime. You raise a garden and do a little hunting or trapping. You manage your own animals and their pasture.

Much of your life’s work and much of your play grows out of this land. It becomes a part of you. As you put more of your energy into the land and it gives back food, your body literally becomes part of the land and the land becomes a part of you.

Living with a piece of land also involves lots of compromises. You make mistakes. Sometimes you do damage. Because our farms are small, and none of us has lots of money, the damage that any of us can do to our land is pretty small. It can almost always be fixed given a little work and time to heal. We know the scale of our compromises, and we take responsibility for them every day.

A 138 KV power line crosses my holler. It is 5 lines suspended from 80-foot wooden towers. The right of way takes up less than 100 feet and the land owner who originally gave Allegheny Power the right of way had the wisdom to ban herbicide spraying on this section of the line.

This power line is big, but it is small enough for us to live with. It is a compromise we all accept. This line runs from a West Virginia power plant to Spencer, the neighboring county’s county seat, from which our own power comes. We know that we and our fellow Calhoun Countians benefit from this line, so we live with it.

I didn’t hear anyone in Washington at these national energy conferences talking about compromise. Those of us who live with the land understand compromise, because we do that all the time on our farms. All I heard was sneering talk about how land owners were in the way of progress and something called “the national interest.”

For the folks at FERC and DOE, money should be enough. Pay them for their rights of way, and they should shut up and go away. And live with power companies controlling a large strip of land right through the middle of their farms. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

If you want to come across me with your big power lines, you have to start by talking about the land. If you don’t understand that, you’re in for a fight.