September 29, 2015

Farmers seek lawmakers’ help on transmission line

By Mateusz Perkowski, Capital Bureau | Blue Mountain Eagle | Published September 28, 2015 |

Farmers near Boardman, Ore., hope state legislators will influence the U.S. Navy on the siting of a proposed transmission line.

Growers in the area fear that the power line – which Idaho Power plans to build from Boardman to Melba, Idaho – will take roughly $30 million of irrigated farmland out of production.

An alternative to this possibility involves repurposing an existing easement that runs across the Navy’s bombing range near Boardman.

The size of the easement’s footprint would not have to be increased, but the decision involves federal action and the Navy doesn’t see the issue as a high priority, said Craig Reeder, vice president of Hale Farms.

Reeder asked members of the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water to tell the Navy that the transmission line should not be built over farmland that’s crucial to the region’s economy.

The Navy has a requirement that the easement can only be repurposed if there are no viable alternatives, but a federal environmental study examines siting the transmission line on farmland in the region, said Don Rice, director of North American operations for Greenwood Resources, which owns poplar tree farms in the area.

The state government could help convince the Navy that this option isn’t actually viable, he said.

The entirety of the project spans more than 300 miles and is expected to cost up to $1.2 billion, said Mitch Colburn, engineering leader for Idaho Power.

The transmission line is needed to improve the electrical grid’s reliability and facilitate the expansion of renewable energy in the region, he said.

Aside from the Idaho Power transmission line, the region is facing other power line issues as wind turbine projects must find way to connect to the Bonneville Power Administration’s electrical grid along the Columbia river, said Bob Levy, who farms near Hermiston, Ore.

There’s currently a lack of planning, with wind energy projects winning approval from regulators before their developers figure out transmission routes, he said.

To compare, a builder cannot construct a house without showing how it will connect to existing infrastructure, Levy said.

The state should set a policy to plan for power corridors and to protect high-value irrigated farmland, said Reeder.

Currently, decisions are made based on soil type – while the sandy soils in the Boardman area are not considered the highest quality, they’re nonetheless capable of growing high-value crops when irrigated, he said.

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