June 10, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - PGE proposes 210-mile power line

Aug 30, 2010

June 10, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - PGE proposes 210-mile power line

PGE proposes 210-mile power line


By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Last modified: June 10. 2010 9:47AM PST

A power company is proposing to build a 210-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line from Salem to Boardman, crossing the Cascades, Warm Springs Reservation, Deschutes River and John Day River along the way.

The project is designed to increase the capacity of the power grid, especially with new renewable energy projects in the future, said representatives with Portland General Electric. But some people are concerned about the environmental impact of a 250-foot wide corridor, and of building a new power line before the renewable projects are finalized.

Federal and state agencies involved in permitting the project are taking public comments and will hold a series of meetings later this month, including one in Maupin.

The existing electric transmission system is reaching its capacity, said Mike Mikolaitis, project director with Portland General Electric. And so the company is proposing to build a new $823 million double circuit transmission line that could relieve some of the congestion on the current system and provide a way to deliver power possibly generated at future renewable energy projects in Eastern Oregon.

“This line will run through what we feel is a very renewable resource-rich area,” Mikolaitis said, adding that it also would help the company meet state requirements that it get 25 percent of its power from renewable resources by
2025.

“Renewable and transmission go hand-in-hand,” said Deb Schallert, permitting manager with Portland General Electric. “You can't just have the wind farm, with no way to get that power out.”

The transmission line would also connect to PGE's Boardman and Coyote Springs generating plants.

The proposed route has been designed to run next to existing power lines and easements, he said, so the company will not open up a completely new path, Mikolaitis said. It's also designed to minimize impacts to homes, farms and
businesses, he said, and once a final route has been picked, the company will talk to private landowners about negotiating easements.

Sensitive areas

Some areas are environmentally sensitive, Schallert said, including the Deschutes and John Day River crossings. The company plans to work with U.S. Forest Service representatives to minimize impacts, she said.

At both river crossings, the company plans to string lines across the river as close as possible to the existing power lines, she said. The lines would span the Deschutes River just north of Maupin, and on the north side of the existing lines.

But the project is drawing questions about putting in lines without any firm renewable projects in place.

“It seems very likely that Mount Hood will become one of those national forests seeing a lot of pressure from energy companies,” said Amy Harwood with the Portland-based nonprofit group Bark, which tracks projects in the Mount Hood National Forest. “We have Portland on one side of the mountain, and a lot of potential for renewable energy on the other side.”

Questions and exceptions

The proposed transmission line raises questions, she said, like whether exceptions should be made to established rules and designations that protect old-growth forests or Wild and Scenic Rivers, in order to create a corridor to energy projects that have not even been approved yet. A 250-foot corridor, and the equipment it takes to construct the transmission lines and towers, could also require new roads, she noted. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Energy are starting permitting processes for the project, and are
working together to collect comments from the public on the project, said Rick Acosta, spokesman for the Mount Hood National Forest. The agencies and the power company have set up a website, www.cascadecrossingproject.com, where people can get more information about the project, and the agencies are holding public scoping meetings starting June 21 in Maupin.
“It's just prudent to streamline the involvement by the public so they don't have to go to more than one site or meeting to contribute,” Acosta said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

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