The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Umatilla Electric Cooperative to provide wholesale transmission service to a Wheatridge Wind Energy project, rejecting a protest by Heppner-based Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative that the action would encroach on its exclusive service territory.
The proposed wind farm, broken up into two areas a few miles north of Heppner, would include up to 292 turbines and generate up to 500 megawatts of energy. The project’s developers have been working with UEC on a plan for UEC to construct a 230-kilovolt transmission line connecting the project to Bonneville Power Administration’s Morrow Flat substation in UEC’s service territory.
The wind farm is in Columbia Basin’s service territory, and the cooperative argued that the proposed transmission line would violate Oregon law barring electric utilities from making retail sales of electricity within other utilities’ exclusive service territory. It filed a complaint with the Oregon Public Utility Commission on Jan. 13, 2017.
According to a news release by UEC, in response to the complaint Wheatridge and UEC filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to confirm the transmission line was subject to federal jurisdiction, not state, and requesting that the commission order UEC to provide transmission service to the project. Columbia Basin filed a protest against it, again stating that the project would illegally violate its exclusive service territory.
Although the stated purpose of the transmission line would be for wholesale and not retail sales, the FERC ruling shows Columbia Basin argued that its retail service would be directly affected because the cooperative would either have to rely on Umatilla Electric’s transmission line or construct a duplicate line at a cost to its members. It stated that it was willing to provide transmission service from the Wheatridge site to the edge of its territory, at which point UEC could pick up transmission.
On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a final order in UEC’s favor, stating that the transmission line was solely to facilitate wholesale sales and would not violate Columbia Basin’s exclusive service territory. It ordered UEC to provide “the requested interconnection and transmission services” for Wheatridge.
“We’re thrilled with the ruling,” Robert Echenrode, UEC general manager and CEO said in a statement Friday. “We have maintained all along that this is a federal issue rather than a state issue, so we are gratified that FERC affirmed that in its decision.”
He said that the cooperative hasn’t “fully digested” the content of the order yet and there would still be other challenges with the project to be addressed, but UEC looks forward to continuing to work with Wheatridge.
Thomas Wolff, CEO and General Manager of Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative, said the cooperative accepts the decision from the federal level. He said they will work with Wheatridge, which was transferred to NextEra Energy in 2017, and UEC as the wind farm and transmission line move forward.
He said it is “very important” to Columbia Basin that the transmission line meets the Morrow County Planning Commission and governor’s office’s concept of a “utility corridor” that has the capacity to serve other future renewable energy projects in Morrow County besides the Wheatridge NextEra project. That concept grew out of a recommendation by an advisory committee of farmers and utilities established by governor Kate Brown in 2015. A single transmission line for multiple projects, they said, would take less farmland out of production than building a separate line for each project that comes along.
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