LA GRANDE — The ownership structure of the proposed 500-kilovolt Boardman to Hemingway transmission line project could lose a major player.
The Bonneville Power Administration, one of B2H’s three partners along with Idaho Power Co. and PacifiCorp, may pull out in a move that would electrify discussions about the controversial project but not endanger it.
Idaho Power has notified the public utility commissions of Oregon and Idaho that it is discussing a possible change in the project’s ownership arrangement. Under the proposal, Idaho Power would acquire BPA’s ownership share and provide transmission service to BPA’s Southeast Idaho customers.
BPA has a 24% share in the project, Idaho Power’s share is 21% and PacifiCorp’s is 55%. Under the proposed arrangement Idaho Power would assume BPA’s share, boosting its ownership level to 45%.
BPA, under the arrangement now, is expected to pay 24% of the expense of the B2H project, which could be between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, said Sven Berg, an Idaho Power spokesman. This means should BPA pull out, B2H would lose between $240 million and $288 million in upfront funding.
That likely would not spark a financial problem.
Berg explained under the proposal, BPA would pay a surcharge to use the Idaho Power lines after the transmission line starts sending juice to its Southeast Idaho customers. The surcharge would last until it raised enough revenue to cover that 24% of the cost of the project.
Berg said the proposal might make the process of getting the B2H project underway smoother.
“It would simplify things,” he said.
Berg explained that with just two owners, decisions could be made more efficiently, which could ultimately benefit consumers. He explained that the B2H project is meant to make it possible for clean, affordable and reliable energy to continue to be available in the Northwest.
“The project is best for customers, period. If this (the proposed ownership structure change) will help us get over the finish line, it will be in the best interest of our customers,” Berg said.
The Idaho Power spokesman emphasized that talks about this step are still very preliminary.
“Things are up in the air,” Berg said.
Kevin Wingert, a spokesman for BPA, agrees that discussions are still preliminary.
“BPA’s goal continues to be providing reliable and cost effective service to our customers in Idaho. Idaho Power, PacifiCorp, and BPA are exploring several scenarios of asset and transmission service arrangements for the Boardman to Hemingway transmission project and much remains to be discussed. BPA has not made any formal decisions on the project at this time,” Wingert said in a statement sent to The Observer.
Jim Kreider of La Grande, co-chair of the Stop B2H Coalition, is not surprised by the news of the proposed ownership structure change.
“We had anticipated this. We are glad that it is on the table so that we can all talk about it,” Kreider said.
The proposed 300-mile mile B2H transmission line would run from Boardman to the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho. It has sparked a firestorm of controversy in La Grande because B2H’s transmission lines, which would be supported by 130- to 185-foot towers, would be there. Many residents fear that such towers and their lines would scar La Grande’s beauty and pose a fire risk.
Some 200 people attended a June 2019 Oregon Department of Energy hearing on the project in La Grande. The hearing lasted 4½ hours, during which local residents expressed overwhelming opposition to B2H.
The Oregon Department of Energy on July 2 issued its proposed B2H plan, which has been revised based on public input, including at hearings.