The Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line is churning its way toward regulatory approval from the Oregon Department of Energy, which is kicking off the review process with a series of public meetings across all four Eastern Oregon counties through which the line would run.
Idaho Power is proposing a 500-kilovolt, 273-mile transmission line from Boardman to the Hemingway Substation in Owyhee County, Idaho, and just submitted a final application for site certificate. The cost for the transmission line is estimated at $1 billion to $1.2 billion.
The proposal has been contentious, and although the tour will not include time for public comment, Idaho Power spokeswoman Julie Stutts said company representatives will be available to respond to residents’ questions and concerns after the meetings end in Pendleton, Boardman, La Grande, Baker City, and Ontario.
Critics like JoAnn Marlette of Baker City contend that the transmission line would alter Eastern Oregon’s scenery, create negative effects on the environment and create noise issues for local residents.
In an interview Thursday, Marlette said she has suggested Idaho Power instead bury the power lines or invest in microgrids — a small, local grid that has the ability to operate independent from the larger power grids — but her arguments haven’t halted the project.
“It’s all about the money,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they ruin Eastern Oregon.”
Jeff Maffuccio, the facility siting coordinator for Idaho Power, conceded that Boardman to Hemingway would likely change some of the views in Eastern Oregon, but it’s taking steps during the planning process to make the transmission towers less intrusive.
Maffuccio said none of the towers would have fencing around them and the service roads would be dirt rather than paved streets.
Boardman to Hemingway’s application is thousands of pages long, and although Maffuccio said he’s confident that Idaho Power has addressed any concerns up to this point, he wants to wait to receive more public input before he’s assured that the transmission will clear the regulatory process.
While the line has alternative routes, the general path of the line is the same.
From the Oregon-Idaho border, the line snakes between Vale and Harper before charting a similar path to Interstate 84. The line bypasses Huntington, Baker City and La Grande, splitting from I-84 around Meacham.
Boardman to Hemingway crosses Highway 395 south of Pilot Rock before taking a hard turn north toward Boardman after crossing Highway 207 in Morrow County.
Maffuccio said Idaho Power has altered the route based on local concerns, like moving the transmission line south after realizing how many people lived in McKay Creek area north of Pilot Rock.
“We didn’t realize that there’s a lot of houses until we got on the ground,” he said.
Maffuccio said Idaho Power is also working with Morrow County farmers and the Boardman Bombing Range to address any of their concerns.
Boardman to Hemingway won’t go unopposed at the upcoming series of public meetings. Marlette said she plans to attend the meetings in Ontario, Baker City and La Grande.
The Pendleton meeting will be held at the Pendleton Convention Center on Oct. 18 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The SAGE Center will host the Boardman meeting at the same day and time.
Following the public meetings, the department of energy plans to submit a draft proposed order to Energy Facility Siting Council for either approval or denial in the first quarter of 2019.
Once the order is submitted, the department will hold public hearings in all five counties and begin accepting testimony and public comment on the project.
Idaho Power projects to have final regulatory approval from the state in early 2021 and complete Boardman to Hemingway in 2025.