The Public Utility Commission of Oregon, in a March 21 order, granted Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s petition for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for the construction of an overhead, 115-kV transmission line from a breaker in the Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) McNary substation to Umatilla’s existing Hermiston Butte substation.
The approximately five-mile line will become the main feed to the Hermiston Butte substation and provide backup to the existing feed from the McNary substation into the Hermiston area.
The commission also said that there are no contested issues of fact and law, and that its staff supports Umatilla’s application.
Umatilla said that it is experiencing rapid growth and that it is expanding, replacing, as well as adding infrastructure. The commission also said that staff agrees that Umatilla has experienced rapid growth over the last five years, with continued growth forecast, and notes that outages on the system have increased in severity.
The parties agree that an upgrade to the existing line would be more expensive and not as effective as development of the proposed line with respect to reliability. The area is currently served by a 115-kV line owned by Umatilla and sourced from the McNary substation, the commission added.
“We conclude that Umatilla has established the necessity of the proposed line,” the commission said. “Umatilla has shown that it is experiencing rapid growth. The existing line has limited capacity and limited reliability, resulting in outages. Upgrading the existing line would be an inferior choice.”
The commission also noted that Umatilla and staff contend that the line is practical. According to Umatilla, the line will use an existing transmission corridor and take a relatively straight route between the two substations. Any alternate route would require new easements, the potential condemnation of more private property, and potential impacts to resource lands.
The commission added that given the number of landowners involved, staff finds it reasonable to assume that Umatilla would have to resort to condemnation regardless of the route chosen, and thus, the project is not practicable without a CPCN because Umatilla otherwise would be unable to initiate the condemnation proceedings to acquire the necessary land or interests in land.
The commission said that the line is the most cost-effective solution to the utility’s need for new transmission into its Hermiston Butte substation.
According to Umatilla – which plans to receive financing for the line from the Department of Agriculture, Rural Utilities Service – the line is estimated to cost $5.74m, and the average impact on a residential member’s bill will be 37 cents per month.
The commission added that staff did not engage in a traditional cost/benefit study because most of the benefits of the line, such as improved reliability, are not readily quantifiable.
The commission said that it agrees that many of the economic benefits of the line are not readily quantifiable, but they are tangible and cannot be achieved more efficiently. The commission said that it makes that determination to facilitate Umatilla’s use of condemnation.
At the outset, Umatilla stated its willingness to work with all landowners to avoid the need for condemnation, the commission said, adding that if condemnation is required, the cooperative faces a timing issue in that it cannot apply for final land use approval from the county until it has a property interest in the land on which the line will be built – and it needs condemnation to acquire that property interest.
Umatilla said that it has worked with local land use authorities to confirm that the line is a permissible use along the route within and without the Umatilla County/City Urban Growth Areas and in the City of Hermiston. In the case of the county, the line would be a conditional use, such that the county may place conditions on its approval to address any compatibility issues, the commission added.
Regarding statewide planning goals, Umatilla discussed the application of goals to its application. For instance, “Goal No. 5” is “open spaces, scenic and historic areas, and natural resources,” and according to Umatilla, the line does not pass through any such designated areas.
The commission added that Umatilla has established, and staff has confirmed, that the project is compatible with statewide and local land use regulations and goals.
Among other things, the commission said that while no person intervened in the proceeding, it received comments or expressions of concerns from the public about the project. To the extent that those concerns relate to the adequacy of the payments to be made by Umatilla to landowners in the condemnation process, those concerns are outside of the commission’s jurisdiction. The commission also said that in its investigation, staff reviewed concerns regarding the location of the line in relation to existing housing and found that the placement of the line sufficiently addresses the concerns.