Fuji Kreider: Eastern Oregon power line irresponsible, unsustainable

Submitted photo##A sign posted in opposition of a 275-mile-long high-power transmission line through five Eastern Oregon counties.
Submitted photo##A sign posted in opposition of a 275-mile-long high-power transmission line through five Eastern Oregon counties.
##Fuji Kreider
##Fuji Kreider

The Oregon Public Utility Commission has ruled in favor of the 500-kilovolt Boardman to Hemingway power transmission line, which would run 275 miles through five Eastern Oregon counties, then another 25 miles on into Idaho on its way to the Snake River substation of Hemingway, near Melba.

The PUC declared the so-called B2H project a public necessity. On that basis, it granted partners Idaho Power and PacifiCorp a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” allowing them to invoke eminent domain over hundreds of miles of land belonging to the people of Eastern Oregon.

The right of way would generally run 250 feet in width, but narrow to 125 in some places and widen to 500 in others.

It would encompass 1,200 towers ranging from 130 to 185 feet in height and more than 440 miles of new access roads. During construction, it would also have to accommodate 300 pulling and tensioning stations.

Eminent domain should only be used as a last resort, when there are no other viable alternatives to achieve a public good. However, the PUC and Department of Energy have failed us in this regard.

The PUC is prepared to allow condemnation of land before the DOE has completed the required environmental and cultural survey work. Yet these surveys are essential for finalizing the numerous mitigation plans and determining their value and ultimate costs.

Neither of our state agencies accepts responsibility. The PUC claims mitigation and land condemnation costs are beyond its jurisdiction to regulate, terming that DOE’s job. DOE says budget matters fall under the PUC’s purview.

Well-financed utilities with their army of attorneys have weakened and manipulated Oregon’s administrative rules for decades, a regulatory capture that hamstrings and fragments big-picture decision-making. This leaves us, the people, caught in a revolving churn of “it’s not in our jurisdiction.”

The B2H project is exorbitantly expensive, and ratepayers will bear the burden for 50-plus years.

Astonishingly, the actual price tag remains unknown. But it’s currently being estimated at $1.4 billion.

Here are some of the costs that are still looming:

* Implementation of mitigation measures and purchase of mitigation sites. These will be determined by completion of survey work and finalized plans.

* Amendments to the project. The first one, which is pending, adds 1,000 acres and more than 40 miles of additional access roads. And bigger amendments are coming.

* Private land condemnation and easement purchases, which this certificate of public convenience will legally allow. There are hundreds of parcels with no contract or agreement with the company. The amount of compensation will be set by the courts, and the utilities’ legal fees will be charged to ratepayers.

Moreover, the companies continue to lowball contingency funds and inflationary pressures. It is disheartening to witness such disregard for accountability.

It’s worth noting that Idaho Power and PacifiCorp are also partnering in Gateway West, a massive transmission infrastructure project to Wyoming that serves to further burden ratepayers. Our electric cooperatives purchase electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, which will also experience rate increases due to transmission wheeling charges, in the form of tariffs.

The decision to proceed with B2H is primarily based on the utilities’ own self-serving data and their claims that the “least-cost/least-risk” option is a high-voltage, long-distance transmission line. The PUC and DOE have issued permits and certificates without complete information or full knowledge of project costs.

Our investments should prioritize the upgrade, digitization and fire-hardening of our existing regional transmission system. Federal infrastructure funds are flowing for such upgrades, but the B2H project does not qualify because it was considered “shovel ready” in 2011.

By neglecting these necessary upgrades, we are missing out on opportunities to enhance capacity on the existing transmission lines connecting our regions, wildfire protection and cost savings. Additionally, we should not overlook the potential of having to bear the cost of PacifiCorp’s liability in the 2020 wildfires.

It’s the PUC’s responsibility to safeguard the interests of ratepayers by carefully evaluating project costs and considering alternative options for maintaining reliable power.

In this case, the costs associated with B2H are imprudent, especially when there are federal funds available to invest in distributed energy resources in the Pacific Northwest, which would create more jobs and propel us toward energy independence.

I urge our state regulators and public officials to reevaluate their decisions and act in the best interests of the Eastern Oregon communities.

It is high time they prioritized transparency, accountability and their stated mission of protecting ratepayers. Let us not be the victims of shortsightedness, greenwashing, and overwhelming corporate influence.

Together, we must demand a responsible and sustainable energy future for our state —one where people control more of their energy future, and are less dependent on these centralized, monopoly utilities that prioritize their shareholders over the ratepayers and our environment.

Guest writer Fuji Kreider, a community organizer and organizational development consultant from La Grande, serves as secretary-treasurer of the Stop B2H Coalition. It was formed to fight an Idaho Power plan to run 275 miles of high-voltage transmission line through Northeastern Oregon on its way 25 miles into Idaho at Hemingway. In her free time, she likes to cook, hike and raft; visit out-of-the-way places; and commune with nature and friends.


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