A controversial $1.2 billion transmission line in northeastern Oregon is on a new list of 22 projects nationwide that a coalition of advocacy groups and industry players says are primed to be built, yielding renewable energy benefits and green jobs.
The projects “could begin construction in the near term if more workable transmission policies are enacted,” the coalition said in a report that was endorsed by the Biden administration on Tuesday.
But Idaho Power, the utility spearheading the 300-mile, 500-kilovolt Boardman to Hemingway project, said it’s in a pretty good place right now.
“We know, and we’ve demonstrated, that our customers are going to need this line and will benefit from it,” Sven Berg, a utility spokesman, said.
The project, which would run through five Oregon counties —Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Baker, Malheur – does face a couple of permitting hurdles.
Opponents are challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a right of way, and have forced a contested case before the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.
But Berg said the company expects to have those issues settled by the middle of next year, in time for a 2023 groundbreaking. Under that scenario, the line could go into service in 2026.
That would be two decades after the utility began making the case for the project.
The long process reflects the divisive nature of transmission projects that cut industrial swaths through farmland and natural settings, bringing local opposition and scorn from environmentalists. Boardman to Hemingway faces specific issues related to its effect on the Oregon Trail and sage grouse.
But climate change is reshaping the discussion of transmission. Many experts and climate activists say more big power lines are crucial to achieving deep grid decarbonization, giving grid operators flexibility to move variable wind and solar power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.
The name of the group behind the report released on Tuesday, Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, captures the new framing.
Idaho Power is spearheading permitting and development of the Boardman to Hemingway project with support from PacifiCorp and the Bonneville Power Administration.
The Boise-based investor-owned utility (NYSE: IDA) wants the line so it can get more power from the Mid-Columbia wholesale energy trading hub in central Washington, especially in the summer when irrigation and air-conditioning use drive peak demand. The Mid-C, as it’s known, can be a good source of inexpensive hydropower.
The utility says the power line would be less expensive than building new power sources as it banishes coal generation from its system by 2030 and aims to be 100% clean by 2045. PacifiCorp could use the line to bring more wind power from Wyoming to Oregon as it also shifts from coal.
The vast bulk of Idaho Power’s customers are in southern Idaho, but its service area spills into Oregon, with about 20,000 customers in the state, mainly in Ontario.
That brings the Oregon Public Utility Commission into play as a regulator. In scrutinizing Idaho Power’s resource plans over the past several years, the PUC has deemed Boardman to Hemingway a reasonable resource approach.
Commissioners reiterated that view this month in considering the utility’s most recent integrated resource plan, even as they acknowledged the project’s local impacts and lingering uncertainties. The PUC nod could help the company justify the project in the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council case.
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