The Bureau of Land Management signed off on a controversial 300-mile, 500-kilovolt overhead transmission line that would run from Boardman to near Boise, boosting electrical capacity between the two regions for future growth.
It is a major step forward for the Boardman to Hemingway project, or B2H, which was first proposed by Idaho Power in 2006. More than a decade later, the BLM released its record of decision for the power line on Friday, which would cross five Eastern Oregon counties en route to southwest Idaho.
Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, said in a statement that building B2H is a Trump administration priority, focusing on infrastructure that supports America’s energy independence.
“Today’s decision is the result of extensive public involvement and will support the environmentally responsible development of resources to meet the needs of communities in Idaho, Oregon and the surrounding region,” Zinke said.
Yet despite the announcement, B2H is still years away from becoming a reality. The BLM record of decision only addresses the power line as it crosses over federal lands, so Idaho Power must now shift its efforts to obtaining state permits through the Oregon Department of Energy, and specifically the Energy Facility Siting Council.
Mitch Colburn, who manages transmission and distribution strategic projects for the utility, said the line will not be completed until 2024 at the earliest. Idaho Power has already invested $90 million in B2H, and the total cost is expected to be $1 billion and $1.2 billion when all is said and done.
Do the math, and that is up to $4 million per mile of transmission. Still, Colburn said B2H remains the most cost-effective way of filling the company’s projected demand.
“The need is still strong,” he said.
According to project documents, B2H is intended to share roughly 1,000 megawatts of electricity between the two regions, which traditionally experience peak demand at different times of the year — summertime for the Intermountain West, and wintertime for the Pacific Northwest.
Routing the line, however, has been a source of controversy in Umatilla and Morrow counties, especially among farmers worried about losing high-value cropland. The BLM decision, meanwhile, takes into account things like sensitive vegetation, wildlife and cultural resources as directed under the National Environmental Policy Act.
While Colburn said there is no such thing as a transmission line without impacts, he feels the chosen route takes steps to minimize environmental impacts.
“This is the culmination of much analysis, and many stakeholders coming together,” Colburn said. “It’s a long process, and we’re certainly supportive of getting it right.”
As expected, the transmission line would plug in to Oregon at the Bonneville Power Administration’s proposed Longhorn Substation east of Boardman. From there, it would run approximately 12 miles south along Bombing Range Road in Morrow County before heading east through Umatilla County, south of Pilot Rock and the Umatilla Indian Reservation then southeast through Union, Baker and Malheur counties on its way to Idaho.
After extensive negotiations, about seven miles of B2H would be built on the west side of Bombing Range Road on the U.S. Navy’s Boardman Bombing Range, thereby avoiding irrigated farms on the east side of the road. Colburn said the Navy will have to complete its own environmental analysis, and will require the removal of an existing 69-kilovolt BPA line.
Earlier this year, Morrow County officials asked to work with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development on a pilot project that would make Bombing Range Road a designated energy transmission corridor, based on the findings of an advisory committee appointed by Gov. Kate Brown in 2015. The goal is to avoid having multiple transmission lines criss-crossing the landscape as more wind and solar companies consider moving into the area.
Carla McLane, Morrow County planning director, said the B2H route fits within that concept, though she was disappointed the entire line could not be located on Navy land.
“I guess you bring everybody to the table and do the best you can,” McLane said. “It will never be perfect.”
The county is now ready to engage in the state permitting process, where McLane said they can continue to address how farmland will be protected.
Bob Waldher, Umatilla County planning director, said he was also pleased to see the line follow a more southerly route, avoiding Interstate 84 and farmland between Pendleton and Pilot Rock.
“I think it matches what our recommendation was,” Waldher said. “It should be less impact to high-value agriculture.”
Idaho Power submitted a revised preliminary application for a site certificate to the Oregon Department of Energy in July. Colburn said the utility has tried to work with local counties as much as possible to tailor a route that works with their preferences.
“I do think that, through the process, we have minimized impacts to a great extent,” he said.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.