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NEWS IDAHO POWER SEEKS TO BOOST TRANSMISSION CAPACITY

CITYDESK/NEWS PALIN, BIETER GIVE SPEECHES OF THEIR LIVES Sarah Palin does have one point. The “lamestream media,” as she terms any media critical of her, tends to paint people with a single, cliched brush and then continue to paint them with the same brush again and again. So we went to the Palin4Ward rally last week, expecting the flesh-and-blood Palin to be at least a few degrees less a caricature than she presents on TV. But Palin is Palin, even up close. The speech—a stump speech and fundraiser for First Congressional District candidate Vaughn Ward—contained a series of cliches about the military and public service and liberals that Palin repeated in a loose spin cycle. Even the guy who introduced the guy who introduced the guy who introduced Palin agreed that Palin is as Palin does. “She is exactly like you would think 12 she would be,” said District 10 Sen. John McGee, who warmed up the

10 | MAY 26 – JUNE 1, 2010 | BOISEweekly

NEWS JIM M Y JOE M AX

It’s been 20 years since a major power line has gone up in the Pacific Northwest. But for two years now, Idaho Power has quietly worked to get approval to build a 299-mile transmission line. The Boardman to Hemingway project would begin at the substation in Hemingway near Melba. The wires would then head into Oregon, snaking through the eastern part of the state through Baker City and up to Boardman. This year, Idaho Power could get the green light. “We’re trying to get to the mid-Columbia trading hub,” explained Kent McCarthy, who’s been with Idaho Power for 13 years and plans transmission and distribution systems for the public utility. “The energy we’re trying to access isn’t the coal-power plant [in Boardman]. It’s hydro and wind and natural gas.” This nexus for power trading has been around since the mid-Columbia dams stopped up the Columbia River. Idaho Power’s plan is to buy and ship energy along the line, according McCarthy. “That gives us a high degree of efficiency because we don’t need as much generation in Idaho because we can access energy in the mid-Columbia,” he said. In January, President Barack Obama announced that one of his main priorities will be to update the nation’s electric grid by building some 3,000 miles of transmission lines. Now states including Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada are pursuing new lines—something that hasn’t happened since the 1990s when the power industry was deregulated. —Sadie Babits

PUBLIC LINES ON PUBLIC LAND The rallying cry that got Idaho Power to reconsider SADIE BABITS Roger Findley remembers that fall day two years ago like it was yesterday. He was going through his mail when he found a letter from the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management. The Ontario, Ore., resident almost chucked it. “I started reading this [with my wife],” he recalled. “Our eyes got as big as silver dollars.” The letter outlined a proposed 299-mile transmission line that Idaho Power wanted to build from the Hemingway substation near Melba to Boardman, Ore. Findley recalls seeing the proposed route and thinking the line would come close to his farm, which is about 10 miles southwest of Ontario. “My dad moved here when he was 17 with my grandparents. They were dust bowl victims coming from Colorado,” said Findley. “I farm part of the original land.” Putting 12-story power lines over prime land used to raise cattle and grow everything from wheat to sugar beets didn’t make sense to him. “This is where we make our livelihoods,” said Findley, “There are health concerns, logistical concerns with working around the lines, and concerns over electro-magnetic fields.” Findley’s wife, a retired BLM botanist, had an idea about where to put the 550-kilovolt line and get it off private land and onto public. The trouble was convincing Idaho Power. So the Findleys did what Oregonians have a reputation for. They got organized and formed the nonprofit Stop Idaho Power. Two hundred people packed the Grange Hall in Ontario for the first town hall meeting organized by the Findleys. “We only prepared 50 handouts,” recalled Findley, chuckling. “We went home after that first meeting and I said, ‘Now I know how an arsonist feels.’ I think we started something big, and we volunteered to lead it.” The Findleys did start something big. Communities throughout Eastern Oregon united to reroute Idaho Power’s Boardman to Hemingway Project—or B2H. This grass-roots activism spread like a wildfire through tweets, blogs and phone calls. Stop signs showed up on private fences declaring private property off limits to Idaho’s largest utility. It worked. Last year, Idaho Power halted the application and

Roger Findley stands on a hill above the site that was proposed for Idaho Power’s 500 kv lines. The power line would have been just to the east of the Malheur Siphon (the big pipe along the valley floor). You can see about 10 miles of it here.

permitting process for the largest power line the Northwest has seen in 20 years. Kent McCarthy plans transmission and distribution systems for Idaho Power and he’s been involved in the Boardman to Hemingway Project. He said the company believed people living in places like Melba and Baker City, Ore., would be happy to have the line. Such projects have historically meant economic development and the guarantee of reliable energy. So Idaho Power was surprised with the groundswell of grass-roots activism. “We knew that people would be vocal,” said McCarthy. “But they were more vocal and more involved than we thought they would be.” Stop Idaho Power launched a blog detailing the B2H project. E-mails and documents from Idaho Power went up on the site. “Twenty years ago, we would not have been nearly as successful as today,” said Findley. “We could instantly keep people informed and get people to write letters through our website.” From the beginning, the group, which sometimes attracted 400 people to its meetings, involved Idaho Power. “We took Idaho Power company officials on a tour to show them where the land was that they wanted to put the line, and then we showed them where it should go,” said Findley. The goal, he said, wasn’t to stop the line but to get it off private land and onto public BLM land in Malheur County. There’s less red tape putting power lines on private property. Putting a power line across public land triggers the National Environmental Policy Act, which means lengthy and exhaustive environmental reviews and public involvement. Findley said Stop Idaho Power took the approach of “let’s get a cup of coffee and talk.” That tactic didn’t work. So the nonprofit collected $20,000 in donations and hired a lawyer. “We had groups like Stop Idaho Power, Move Idaho Power and Protect Parma and

Protect Canyon County,” said McCarthy. “They convinced us that there was a lot of opposition and the community needed to be heard better than the scoping process.” That opposition largely came from Eastern Oregon from people angry at the thought of seeing swooping lines on giant towers cutting across wide open valleys like in the Baker City area. People worried the B2H would disrupt irrigation, make prime farmland useless, destroy the scenery and lower employment and tax revenues. In Malheur County, Stop Idaho Power argued that county planners had purposefully preserved farmland rather than paving the way for development. In group documents, they noted that residents there “should not bear the burden of huge towers because Idaho thinks Malheur County is ‘not developed.’ Idaho still has much undeveloped and public land to site transmission lines.” Idahoans launched their own effort to reroute the line off farmland. But that level of involvement seemed quiet compared to Oregon’s outcry. Todd Lakey, an attorney and former Canyon County commissioner, is the spokesman for the group Protect Canyon County. “Our message all along from the beginning has been this is a public utility and a public utility should be located on public land,” Lakey said. People were surprised by the line and felt they didn’t have a say, he said. Idahoans, like Oregonians, understand the need for power but they also questioned the benefits the line would have for communities. “It’s been more asking that question but recognizing the need to have power infrastructure and locate it appropriately,” said Lakey. McCarthy noticed the differing levels of involvement between the Oregon and Idaho groups, but he said 12 Idahoans did make an impact as well. WWW. B O I S E WE E KLY. C O M

Boise Weekly Vol. 18 Issue 48  

Idaho's Only Alternative

Boise Weekly Vol. 18 Issue 48  

Idaho's Only Alternative