Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Officials from the Oregon Department of Energy recommend a state council approval for Idaho Power’s controversial plan to build a power transmission line through Eastern Oregon. Idaho Power, which is partnering with the Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp, first proposed B2H in 2007. The 500-kilovolt line would run for nearly 300 miles between Hemingway, in Southern Idaho, to Boardman in Morrow County.

Local residents will have a chance to express their opinions about the Boardman-to-Hemingway project during public hearings in June.
Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council, the seven-member group that reviews and issues construction certificates for major utility projects such as power lines, has scheduled hearings in each of the five Oregon counties — Malheur, Baker, Union, Umatilla and Morrow — through which the B2H power line would pass.

A hearing in Baker City is scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to
8 p.m. June 19 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, 2005 Valley Ave. An employee from the Oregon Department of Energy will explain the project, with public testimony starting at about 5 p.m. A Union County public hearing is set for 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 20 at the Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th St. in
La Grande.

Groups of local residents have opposed the project since its inception. Baker and Union county opponents claim, among other things, that the metal towers, some as tall as 180 feet, would mar scenic views through Baker Valley, Grande Ronde Valley, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center and other places. Critics also contend that the project would not benefit Baker County, as the line would not supply power to the county.

Most Baker County residents buy their power from Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative. Idaho Power does have customers in the eastern parts of the county.

Mitch Colburn, resource planning and operations director for Idaho Power, said B2H would benefit Eastern Oregon counties through increased property taxes from Idaho Power and spending during construction of the line. Colburn also contends that the line would make electricity less expensive and service more reliable for OTEC and other providers.

The sections that have prompted the most concern in Baker County include the area near the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, on the east side of Baker Valley, and in the Durkee area southeast of Baker City. Idaho Power initially proposed to route the line east of the Interpretive Center, but concerns about the potential effect on sage grouse habitat there led to the current proposed route on the east side of Baker Valley. That section would run near Idaho Power’s existing 230-kilovolt transmission line, which crosses Highway 86 on Flagstaff Hill between Baker Valley and the Interpretive Center.

B2H opponents have also criticized Idaho Power for proposing a route that is predominantly on private property. Of the 68.4 miles of line proposed in Baker County, 56.5 miles (83%) would be on private land, with the balance on public property managed by the BLM. In Union County, the proposed route would cover 39.9 miles, 31.5 miles (81%) of which would be on private land.

In December 2017 Baker County offered to negotiate easements with Idaho Power for the estimated 35 property owners along the proposed B2H route.

“The county is committed to continuing the fight for equity for our landowners specifically and the county at large,” according to a letter sent to property owners.

Jeff Maffucio, Idaho Power’s facility siting coordinator, said company officials would negotiate with private landowners along the route to buy easements. These typically would be 150 feet wide, he said. Although the easements would prohibit the construction of buildings within that corridor, Maffucio said landowners could continue current activities such as farming and livestock grazing.

Idaho Power projects that it would build 290 towers in Baker County as part of the project, build 28.2 miles of roads, and improve 63.2 miles of existing access roads. The figures for Union County are 171 towers, 7.6 miles of new roads, and improvements to 37.5 miles of existing roads.

The public hearings will coincide with a 60-day public comment period that began May 22, when the Oregon Department of Energy issued a draft proposed order for B2H. That order includes the recommendation that the Energy Facility Siting Council approve the proposal and issue Idaho Power a site certificate.

Maffucio estimated last month that the Siting Council could issue a final order in late 2019 and a permit allowing construction of the power line 12 to 18 months after that. The current schedule calls for construction to start in 2022, with the line carrying power starting in 2026.

People who aren’t able to attend a public hearing may submit written comments by 5 p.m. July 23. Comments can be emailed to B2H.DPOComments@Oregon.gov or mailed to Kellen Tardaewether, senior siting analyst, Oregon Department of Energy, 550 Capitol St. NE, Salem 97301.

More information about the B2H project is available at www.oregon.gov/energy/facilities-safety/facilities/Pages/B2H.aspx.

Electronic copies of Idaho Power’s application are available at the Baker County Library, 2400 Resort St. in Baker City, and Cook Memorial Library, 2006 Fourth St. in La Grande.