Turbines vs. towers

Idaho Power’s Boardman to Hemingway transmission line project manager, Keith Georgeson, left, discusses the line’s path through Morrow County with landowners Monday night at Ione Community School.

It’s deja vu all over again, with one major difference. Now that Idaho Power has changed its preferred route for the 500-kilovolt Boardman to Hemingway transmission line from north to south of the Boardman Bombing Range, a new set of landowners is worrying the line will hinder irrigation systems and aerial spraying.

But many who gathered to hear an Idaho Power presentation Monday night at the Ione Community School had a more pressing concern: the line may prevent them from leasing land for wind turbines.

“They’re going right through the damn middle of my farm,” protested Ivar Christensen, clutching a package of maps and informational leaflets.

Luckily for Christensen, he’s already signed a lease agreement with Oregon Wind, Inc. Construction on several strings of towers will begin on his land in a few months. Most likely, by the time Idaho Power gets around to laying an exact path through Morrow County, his towers will already be standing.

“If we don’t have ‘em up before these clowns come and acquire the land ... ,” he said, leaving the awful prospect unspoken.

Christensen was referring to Idaho Power’s power of eminent domain. As a utility, it can appropriate land whether a landowner agrees or not.

Others in the room had yet to sign a lease agreement but were in discussions with or had an arrangement with wind developers. Tim Holtz is receiving a yearly payment from Iberdrola Renewables so the company can gather wind data on his land.

“I’m not opposed to the line,” he said. “I mean, the wind is only good if you can get the power out.”

Still, when the time comes for Idaho Power to talk “fair market value” for an easement across his land, he said, the company should consider what the wind developer is paying.

For farmers and ranchers in Morrow County, accustomed to squeezing a living out of an arid landscape through hard work, the thought of even a couple of turbines is tantalizing — each brings in around $15,000 a year.

Idaho Power plans to cut a swath through the land 250 feet wide. At the Ione meeting, company representatives laid out aerial photos of Morrow County, the preferred route a red line running along the southern edge of the bombing range. The new route diverges from the old about five miles west of Echo in Umatilla County. It cuts almost directly across Morrow County. It skirts the Boardman Conservation Area and Threemile Canyon Farms and turns north to end at the future Grassland Substation just west of the Boardman coal-fired plant.

The company’s previous plan ran into too many problems, representatives said. The main issue was the Navy’s refusal to allow the line onto the bombing range so it could avoid homes and farms. Idaho Power also had difficulty routing the line around the 26,000-acre GreenWood Resources tree farm.

The southern side of the bombing range is more sparsely populated. But Idaho Power will have to contend with the Washington ground squirrel, an endangered species and the reason for the Boardman Conservation Area.

Idaho Power is commissioning environmental surveys this spring to determine the most suitable route. If it finds a squirrel outside the conservation area, it must take pains to avoid it.

The company plans to use 190-foot tall lattice steel towers for most of the 300-mile route. The tallest of three styles the company is using, they can stand up to 1,300 feet apart.

At the meeting, an Idaho Power team told landowners they would do their best to work around existing or future wind turbines. Project Leader Keith Georgeson spoke of convening a task force made of Idaho Power specialists and wind developers to negotiate a workable route.

But when landowners talk about compensation for lost wind income, they’re talking about periodic payments over the next several years. Idaho Power doesn’t work that way, Georgeson said.

“Just the logistics of having to pay a monthly or yearly fee ... it would just be very difficult for us,” he said. “We’re saying we probably would not do that.”

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