Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final B2H Route Community Advisory Meetings

Click picture for larger image

Last week, Idaho Power submitted its proposed route in its revised SF-299 application to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The submission of this application will restart the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Idaho Power anticipates the BLM will begin holding scoping meetings later this summer. The Oregon Department of Energy-Energy Facility Siting Council will also take public input and conduct a review process for the state of Oregon.

In two weeks, Idaho Power will host a series of Community Advisory Process public meetings throughout the project area. (Note: these meetings are NOT the planned scoping meetings for the BLM-NEPA process, which will be held in Aug-Sept.)

We hope you will take the time to attend one of these open houses to review the proposed route that has been submitted for federal review, and learn more about how and why this route was chosen. Idaho Power representatives will be available at the open houses to discuss the project and answer questions. The Community Advisory Process public open houses will be held:

July 13, 2010
Brogan, Oregon
4 – 7 p.m.
Brogan Community Event Center
5621 Clark St.
Brogan, OR 97903

July 14, 2010
La Grande, Oregon
4 – 7 p.m.
Blue Mountain Conference Center
404 Twelfth St.
La Grande, OR 97850

July 15, 2010
Marsing, Idaho
4 – 7 p.m.
American Legion Hall
126 N. Bruneau Hwy.
Marsing, ID 83639

July 20, 2010
Baker City, Oregon
4 – 7 p.m.
Baker Community Event Center
2600 East St.
Baker City, OR 97814

July 21, 2010
Pilot Rock, Oregon
4 – 7 p.m.
Pilot Rock Community Center
285 NW Cedar Pl.
Pilot Rock, OR 97868

July 22, 2010
Boardman, Oregon
4 – 7 p.m.
Port of Morrow Convention Center
2 Marine Dr.
Boardman, OR 97818

Throughout the NEPA process there will be multiple opportunities for you to continue to give input. Idaho Power is committed to working with the communities throughout the NEPA process and will continue to communicate with you and inform you of ways to stay involved.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Citizens for Responsible Transmission Line Siting

We have been asked to lend our support to an organization which represents a number of groups like ours across the West. This is a coalition of citizens who are in different stages of dealing with the consequences of electrical utilities attempting to route high-voltage lines across private property. Those starting out, as we did in October of 2007, will find support, encouragement, and vast amounts of helpful information here.

Please go to

and find out more about this organization. Signing up will keep you informed of the efforts of other citizens' groups, and the political clout of an umbrella group like this can be considerable.

Any support, even just registering with the website, will be of help. Thank you!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Public Lines on Public Land

The rallying cry that got Idaho Power to reconsider
Roger Findley stands on a hill above the site that was proposed for Idaho Power's 500 kv lines. The power line would have been just to the east of the Malheur Siphon (the big pipe along the valley floor). You can see about 10 miles of it here.

by Sadie Babits, May 26, 2010

Roger Findley remembers that fall day two years ago like it was yesterday. He was going through his mail when he found a letter from the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management. The Ontario, Ore., resident almost chucked it.

"I started reading this [with my wife]," he recalled. "Our eyes got as big as silver dollars."

The letter outlined a proposed 299-mile transmission line that Idaho Power wanted to build from the Hemingway substation near Melba to Boardman, Ore. Findley recalls seeing the proposed route and thinking the line would come close to his farm, which is about 10 miles southwest of Ontario.

"My dad moved here when he was 17 with my grandparents. They were dust bowl victims coming from Colorado," said Findley. "I farm part of the original land."

Putting 12-story power lines over prime land used to raise cattle and grow everything from wheat to sugar beets didn't make sense to him.

"This is where we make our livelihoods," said Findley, "There are health concerns, logistical concerns with working around the lines, and concerns over electro-magnetic fields."

Findley's wife, a retired BLM botanist, had an idea about where to put the 550-kilovolt line and get it off private land and onto public. The trouble was convincing Idaho Power. So the Findleys did what Oregonians have a reputation for. They got organized and formed the nonprofit Stop Idaho Power.

Two hundred people packed the Grange Hall in Ontario for the first town hall meeting organized by the Findleys.

"We only prepared 50 handouts," recalled Findley, chuckling. "We went home after that first meeting and I said, 'Now I know how an arsonist feels.' I think we started something big, and we volunteered to lead it."

The Findleys did start something big. Communities throughout Eastern Oregon united to reroute Idaho Power's Boardman to Hemingway Project--or B2H. This grass-roots activism spread like a wildfire through tweets, blogs and phone calls. Stop signs showed up on private fences declaring private property off limits to Idaho's largest utility. It worked. Last year, Idaho Power halted the application and permitting process for the largest power line the Northwest has seen in 20 years.

Kent McCarthy plans transmission and distribution systems for Idaho Power and he's been involved in the Boardman to Hemingway Project. He said the company believed people living in places like Melba and Baker City, Ore., would be happy to have the line. Such projects have historically meant economic development and the guarantee of reliable energy.

So Idaho Power was surprised with the groundswell of grass-roots activism. "We knew that people would be vocal," said McCarthy. "But they were more vocal and more involved than we thought they would be."

Stop Idaho Power launched a blog detailing the B2H project. E-mails and documents from Idaho Power went up on the site. "Twenty years ago, we would not have been nearly as successful as today," said Findley. "We could instantly keep people informed and get people to write letters through our website."

From the beginning, the group, which sometimes attracted 400 people to its meetings, involved Idaho Power.

"We took Idaho Power company officials on a tour to show them where the land was that they wanted to put the line, and then we showed them where it should go," said Findley.

The goal, he said, wasn't to stop the line but to get it off private land and onto public BLM land in Malheur County. There's less red tape putting power lines on private property. Putting a power line across public land triggers the National Environmental Policy Act, which means lengthy and exhaustive environmental reviews and public involvement.

Findley said Stop Idaho Power took the approach of "let's get a cup of coffee and talk." That tactic didn't work. So the nonprofit collected $20,000 in donations and hired a lawyer.

"We had groups like Stop Idaho Power, Move Idaho Power and Protect Parma and Protect Canyon County," said McCarthy. "They convinced us that there was a lot of opposition and the community needed to be heard better than the scoping process."

That opposition largely came from Eastern Oregon from people angry at the thought of seeing swooping lines on giant towers cutting across wide open valleys like in the Baker City area. People worried the B2H would disrupt irrigation, make prime farmland useless, destroy the scenery and lower employment and tax revenues.

In Malheur County, Stop Idaho Power argued that county planners had purposefully preserved farmland rather than paving the way for development. In group documents, they noted that residents there "should not bear the burden of huge towers because Idaho thinks Malheur County is 'not developed.' Idaho still has much undeveloped and public land to site transmission lines."

Idahoans launched their own effort to reroute the line off farmland. But that level of involvement seemed quiet compared to Oregon's outcry.

Todd Lakey, an attorney and former Canyon County commissioner, is the spokesman for the group Protect Canyon County.

"Our message all along from the beginning has been this is a public utility and a public utility should be located on public land," Lakey said.

People were surprised by the line and felt they didn't have a say, he said. Idahoans, like Oregonians, understand the need for power but they also questioned the benefits the line would have for communities. "It's been more asking that question but recognizing the need to have power infrastructure and locate it appropriately," said Lakey.

McCarthy noticed the differing levels of involvement between the Oregon and Idaho groups, but he said Idahoans did make an impact as well. He speculated that the high level of activism in Oregon arose because the B2H is mainly in Oregon. Findley noted that at least one Idaho group opposed to the B2H got in touch with him to get advice on how to launch a successful campaign against Idaho Power.

Idaho Power responded to this opposition across the Idaho-Oregon border by starting a community advisory process. The utility organized groups from Eastern Oregon down to Southwest Idaho to come up with alternative routes. Last year, these teams, representing three geographic areas, developed and submitted 47 alternatives. From those, the groups, along with Idaho Power, picked three plans.

McCarthy said he values having such public involvement.

"It's been really painful at times, but it's always been good information. We're the engineers, but they're the people who really know the geography and the issues. We need their input so we don't go the wrong direction," he said.

Findley said he's happy with the alternate route through Malheur County, which now puts most of the line on public land. The proposed route also skirts private land in Canyon County. Lakey remains "cautiously optimistic" that it will stay that way.

"Idaho Power has done a good job of listening to the citizens and the political leaders," he said.

Residents in Baker City, though, aren't happy. The original transmission line would have gone over the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center and up through the valley. Now the line goes behind the center. Residents argue if the line gets built there, it will destroy a historic view--one that pioneers first saw coming through the valley.

The Boardman to Hemingway project isn't a done deal. Idaho Power must clear a number of hurdles before construction can begin. Oregon's Energy Facility Siting Council is expected to make a decision by mid-August. Meanwhile, Idaho Power has started the process again with the BLM. Ultimately, the company will have to make the case for why the B2H is needed.

Construction could begin in 2013 with the line active two years later.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Energy Gateway Section Energized; BPA Reconsiders B2H Line

by Steve Ernst, May 20, 2010 http://www.energyprospects.com/cgi-bin/package_display.pl?packageID=3226 (registration required)

PacifiCorp has energized a 46-mile section of its Energy Gateway Transmission Expansion project, the utility announced last week.

The new section stretches from the Ben Lomond substation, in Box Elder County, Utah, to the Terminal substation, located near the Salt Lake City International Airport, and is part of the Gateway Central section of the project. The process to energize this section began March 19 and was completed March 30, the company said.

PacifiCorp says the northern section of the segment should be energized by the end of this year. The section will extend an additional 90 miles north to the Populus substation near Downey, Idaho, and would complete the first full segment of the Energy Gateway Transmission Project.

"It has been two decades since any major additions were made to the main transmission grid in the West," said Richard Walje, president of Rocky Mountain Power, in a prepared statement. "When completed, this and other transmission additions will ensure customers in the states we serve have access to electricity at reasonable prices."

In other transmission news, BPA has informed Idaho Power that the agency will not participate in the Boardman to Hemingway transmission project.

BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said that on May 10, the agency gave its "preliminary recommendation that we not participate in the Boardman to Hemingway project."

"Our analysis indicates that financially participating in the Boardman to Hemingway project would cost about three to five times as much a year as continuing the arrangements under which we currently serve our southern Idaho customers," Johnson said via email.

Currently, BPA pays Idaho Power to wheel power through its service area to BPA customers in southern and eastern Idaho and Wyoming.

But BPA is accepting informal customer and stakeholder feedback on the recommendation through the end of this month, Johnson said.

The B2H project, which would run from the Boardman substation near Boardman, Ore., to the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho, has drawn the ire of locals who petitioned the Oregon PUC to open a contested case hearing in Idaho Power's integrated resource plan case to determine if the project is needed.

Move Idaho Power and Idaho (?) resident Nancy Peyron asked for the hearing, arguing that Oregon EFSC is required to conduct energy siting proceedings as contested cases, but those cases do not question whether or not a facility is needed.

Move Idaho Power and Ms. Peyron argued that EFSC's facility siting proceedings are contested cases that rely on the OPUC-acknowledged IRP, so the OPUC should hold a contested hearing on whether or not the B2H line is needed.

On May 17, ALJ Sarah Wallace ruled that the OPUC did not have to hold a contested case in the Idaho Power IRP because the commission generally does not address the need for a specific resource, but determines whether or not the utility has proposed a portfolio with the "best combination of cost and risk."

"The Legislature delegated the authority to determine the need for a proposed transmission line to the EFSC, not to this commission," Judge Wallace said in her order. "The Commission would be exceeding its legislatively delegated authority if it attempted to determine whether the EFSC's need standard has been met."

Federal transmission policy faces several roadblocks

More transmission is needed in order to reach the “20% wind energy by 2030″ target that the U.S. Department of Energy says is possible. However, passing a federal bill is another matter.

Talk about the challenges facing the wind business, and several issues come to mind, including siting, the debate over a federal renewable electricity standard (RES), and financing a project in the throes of the worst recession in 40 years.

So, where does transmission – as important to wind as any financing or regulatory issue – fit into all of this? The issue tends to be put on the back burner because building transmission – not to mention enacting a federal standard – is so complex and requires the approval of many stakeholders. In fact, analysts and industry officials say that transmission is much more complicated than other issues that wind power faces.

Solving transmission constraints means working with state regulators, independent system operators (ISO), regional transmission operators, utilities and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – almost all of which have different agendas.

“It’s not just one of the main challenges facing the wind industry;’ says Georgina Benedetti, an energy and power systems analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “In my opinion, it’s as serious an issue as the extension of any of the incentives.”

More complicated still is that not everyone in the same group always wants the same thing. Utilities are split between those that want to add capacity and those that do not because they fear lower prices from increased supply, according to Michael Goggin, manager of transmission policy at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Defining the agenda
The one thing almost everyone agrees on is that the U.S. power grid needs upgrading – especially if it is going to handle the amount of wind necessary to reach the U.S. Department of Energy’s “20% wind energy by 2030″ goal. Mason Willrich, a senior advisor to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Innovation Project, notes it takes 10 to 12 years to build transmission in California, but takes only three to five years to build a wind farm.

Furthermore, there is a general consensus that some wind projects, especially in less windy areas, are already being held up because there is not transmission available to take the electricity to market. . .

Smart grid or bigger grid? Does the U.S. need more capacity, or does it just need to better manage the capacity it has by taking advantage of new technology? On the one hand, says Ed Krapels, CEO of Anbaric Transmission, it does not look as though the country will need all of the extra capacity that was forecast just a couple of years ago, thanks to the recession and increased conservation. This is where smart transmission could help.

On the other hand, says Goggin, relying solely on a smart grid will not provide additional capacity to bring wind-generated electricity from places such as Wyoming and North Dakota to market. . .

Cost allocation. This decision may be the biggest obstacle, says Willrich. State regulators are reluctant to pass costs on to ratepayers for transmission that is not solely contained in their jurisdiction. This limits the options for building regional transmission. Meanwhile, public utilities prefer public financing, as opposed to investor-owned utilities, which prefer to build privately.

FERC’s role. Few can agree what FERC can do, let alone what it should do. It is unclear whether existing legislation gives the agency the authority to regulate siting and cost allocation. Legislation in 2005 seemed to give FERC authority to expedite permitting’ but the agency has not yet used its power to override state authority, preferring to wait until state permitting processes play out.

FERC and the courts. Meanwhile, several court cases that have dealt with cost allocation also seem to limit FERC’s authority, depending on appeals and whether what happens in one part of the country is precedent in another part. . .

Regional planning. This issue involves more than encouraging groups of states agreeing to work together to add transmission in their respective regions.. .

Continued regulation or less regulation? Transmission is the last part of the electricity business that is still mostly regulated, and there are those who argue that regulation is hampering transmission construction. . .

A larger view
But the issue looming over all of these uncertainties, say those interviewed for this story, is the lack of suitable U.S. energy policy. . .

“It’s all about the mission statement,” says Krapels. “And, so far, there has not been enough of one to help transmission. Transmission, because it’s so complicated, needs to be part of the broader, more comprehensive package. . . ”

The problem in the end, says Fagan, is that “everyone wants their cake and to eat it, too. They want transmission, but they don’t want to pay for it.”

Nevertheless, transmission is a problem that needs to solved – even if it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as it should.