Idaho Power says it is working with property owners to relocate a portion of the proposed Boardman to Hemingway transmission line, avoiding high-value farmland.
Idaho Power is asking to build a portion of its proposed Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line on the U.S. Navy’s bombing range south of Boardman to avoid interfering with nearby farms.
The company, based in Boise, has requested an easement from the Navy to place approximately 10 miles of transmission lines on the west side of Bombing Range Road — which splits the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility to the west and a half-dozen irrigated farms to the east.
The preferred route for Boardman to Hemingway spans five Eastern Oregon counties and more than 300 miles, beginning at a proposed Bonneville Power Administration substation east of Boardman and ending at the existing Hemingway Transmission Station in southwest Idaho.
Part of the project’s Morrow-Umatilla segment includes an alternative that shows lines running down the east side of Bombing Range Road, drawing loud criticism from landowners and county officials who say the towers would take acres of high-value agriculture out of production.
The issue became so contentious the Oregon Farm Bureau helped craft a bill in the legislature that would have required utilities to study overhead transmission routes to avoid productive farmland. That bill ultimately died in committee.
Mitch Colburn, engineering leader on 500-kilovolt projects for Idaho Power, said they have worked for several months with local stakeholders to come up with a plan that sticks Boardman to Hemingway on the west side of Bombing Range Road.
“We would avoid constructing a line on landowner property that could ultimately remove acres of production due to reduced land availability and equipment operability,” Colburn said.
But, in order to do that, Idaho Power needs a stamp of approval from the Navy.
Numerous officials and landowners signed on to a letter of support sent July 10 to Capt. Michael Nortier, commanding officer for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington, supporting a Navy easement for Boardman to Hemingway on the west side of Bombing Range Road.
If that easement is approved, Idaho Power would build roughly 10 miles of line along the eastern edge of the bombing range, which would replace an existing 69-kilovolt BPA line on the property.
Umatilla Electric Cooperative owns and operates a 115-kilovolt line on private property across the road, and would cooperate with BPA to maintain electrical service for customers displaced by the removal of the 69-kilovolt line.
Towers would follow the Navy’s requested height limit of 100 feet to avoid conflicts with military operations, according to Idaho Power. The Boardman Bombing Range is currently used as the principal training ground for Boeing EA-18G Growler aircraft based at Whidbey Island.
Colburn said he hasn’t received a clear answer yet from the Navy. Rick McArdle, community planning liaison officer for the Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex, did not return a call Tuesday for comment.
Jerry Rietmann, co-owner of the Ione-based Wheatridge Wind Energy, said the plan would make best use of both energy corridors to meet the region’s power needs.
The route along the east side of Bombing Range Road could also become a singular site for new wind energy transmission, Rietmann said. Wheatridge Wind Energy is proposing a 500-megwatt wind farm in southern Morrow and Umatilla counties.
“The different wind companies have been working on a single-use electrical corridor to the Longhorn Substation,” Rietmann said. “It would have some impact, but not the kind of impact Boardman to Hemingway would have.”
Don Rice, director of operations at the 24,000-acre Boardman Tree Farm, said the action will take compromise on everyone’s part, but appears to be the most promising solution available.
“It’s the only plan the parties have been able to coalesce around,” Rice said “The key to making it all work is an agreement from the Navy.”
Colburn said it was good for Idaho Power to hear from communities during the recent public comment period, and fully understand where landowners were coming from.
“We are satisfied,” he said. “We’ll find a way to minimize impacts while at the same time achieving our project’s objectives.”
Boardman to Hemingway is expected to cost between $880-$940 million, and come online by 2020.