portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts oregon & cascadia

energy & nuclear

Proposed PGE Transmission Line Raises Questions

Questions are stirring about whether Oregon's future energy demands are enough to merit construction of a new 500-kilovolt transmission line from Boardman to Salem.

(Article from the Daily Journal of Commerce is posted to the Bark Site)
***PGE opens a public comment period for the proposed Cascade Crossing project.***

From the Daily Journal of Commerce, www.djcoregon.com
POSTED: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 02:35 PM PT
BY: Nathalie Weinstein

Portland General Electric says the Cascade Crossing Transmission Project is needed to transmit electricity from existing and future wind farms planned in Eastern Oregon and to meet future energy demands. But convincing the public, property owners and environmentalists that the need is real will be PGE's greatest challenge, said Deb Schallert, permitting manager for PGE.

As proposed, the new transmission line would be 250 feet wide and extend 176 miles from PGE's Boardman plant to its Bethel Substation near Salem. Along the way, it would cross the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, national forests and numerous plats of privately held land.

Owners of three planned Eastern Oregon wind projects sought a new transmission line to take clean power to customers in Western Oregon. PGE's Boardman plant, along with a planned natural gas plant and existing plants at Coyote Springs also would plug in to the new line, according to Mike Mikolaitis, PGE's project manager for Cascade Crossing.

"Most opportunities for us to meet our renewable energy standard are in the eastern part of the state," Mikolaitis said. "Currently eastern wind power is transmitted on an existing grid operated by Bonneville Power Administration. But those are becoming fully utilized, which pushes the need for additional transmission lines."

But Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon, said he would like to see more concrete plans for PGE to phase out its Boardman plant.

"If you phase out Boardman, that is some of the power the transmission line will carry," Jenks said. "There's an assumption that Boardman will be replaced, but that will be a competitive bidding process. PGE is prejudging a transmission need. At this point there are questions, but we're looking forward to having PGE answer those."

Plans for the Boardman plant, Mikolaitis said, are still being determined, though PGE is considering whether to replace it with a natural gas plant.

For Amy Harwood, program director at Bark, a nonprofit that works to preserve and restore the Mount Hood National Forest, PGE's project seems based more on speculation of future energy use than actual need. One alternate route proposed for Cascade Crossing would cut through the national forest along a similar path as another energy project, the Palomar Pipeline.

Her group has actively protested the proposed 217-mile Palomar natural gas pipeline because it would require clear-cutting the forest.

"I have walked the Palomar route many times and it's totally unacceptable," Harwood said. "There are important environmental expectations we have for national forests, and corridor expansion really tests those. A lot of these energy projects are fairly speculative. We see a need for bigger-picture planning rather than throwing projects out there and seeing what sticks."

Schallert said PGE's preferred route mostly follows existing transmission lines, so less vegetation would need to be removed.

"We're hearing concerns about the impacts to the environment, but we're also getting a lot of support for best siting practices," Schallert said. "More people than not prefer we site the new line next to existing lines."

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs also is concerned about the proposed transmission line's potential impacts on its culturally and environmentally sensitive lands, but Warm Springs Power general manager Jim Manion said now is the time to address a power system he described as inadequate.

"Right now there may not be a high desire or need for more electricity given the economy," Manion said. "But we also need to recognize that should that turn, there will be increased pressure for system capacity growth. As demand increases, the system will become more stressed. We have to look at our most viable options for increasing performance, delivery and efficiency of our power."

PGE will be able to meet only half of its load growth through planned energy efficiency measures for buildings and homes in Oregon, Mikolaitis said. In addition, transmission contracts with hydro projects along the Columbia River put into place in the 1960s are expiring, as are contracts with the Bonneville Power Administration. Without a new transmission line, Mikolaitis said, the utility could compromise its ability to provide constant power to its customers.

"A few weeks ago, we had to rearrange because a transmission line wasn't available," Mikolaitis said. "You might see that cropping up more if we don't build additional transmission. Our company's ability to meet renewable energy standards would be jeopardized. Those are major issues."

Public comment on the Cascade Crossing project will be taken until Aug. 2. Schallert said scoping meetings with stakeholders along the proposed transmission route will begin later this month.