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Bill would give public more say on power plants

Published: April 3, 2005

By James Sinks

The Bulletin -- bendbulletin.com

SALEM Natural gas-fired power plants are hulking industrial behemoths that generate electricity to feed the growing needs of the West.

But the prospect of such projects and the difficulty of stopping them from being built sends a shudder through their prospective neighbors, from the outskirts of Salem and Eugene to rural Klamath and Jefferson counties. Against that backdrop, the House Land Use Committee heard testimony last week on a proposal that would give local governments a bigger voice in where power plants and pipelines are built. Today, those decisions are the domain of the seven-member state Energy Facility Siting Council. The committee was created to site power plants, not to prevent them.

"While the Energy Facility Siting Council tried to be responsive to citizen concerns, the laws are not in place for them to give proper weight to local concerns," said Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Zemke, who helped lead efforts to block the Cogentrix Energy Inc. facility near Madras.

That proposed 980-megawatt facility was put on hold indefinitely because of market conditions. House Bill 3135 would require applicants for energy facilities to obtain land-use approval something that's not required now. But the idea didn't sit well with representatives of several utility companies, including PacifiCorp and the Oregon Department of Energy. They painted the proposal as a cumbersome barrier that would block necessary power plants, transmission systems and renewable-energy projects.

"The current law was crafted with the input and consideration of many Oregon stakeholders and works well for energy developers and local communities," said PacifiCorp lobbyist Shawn Miller.

Michael Grainey, director of the energy department, said the state's centralized approach to dealing with power generation makes more sense than seeking county-by-county clearance. He said the state does solicit local feedback and sets many conditions to pacify local concerns.

"The projects aren't popular and some people may disagree with them, but we do want to get input from the local community," Grainey said.

But a parade of witnesses from Klamath County and the Willamette Valley communities of Coburg and Turner disagreed that the process is public-friendly.

"What galls our community most about the proposed plant is that the decision to site it is completely out of local control," said John Sundquist, whose family lives two miles from the proposed West Cascades Energy facility outside Coburg.

Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, the committee chairman and one of the chief sponsors of the bill, said the general public has developed the impression that the state will run rough-sho

d over local concerns.

He said that concern was solidified when the state didn't respond to his letter about a controversial plant proposed near Bonanza in Klamath County.

"It's hard to differentiate whether the concern is about the supersiting authority or what's being proposed," he said. Similar complaints were generated in Wilsonville when the state didn't need land-use approval to site a prison for women, he said.

"I was surprised with the reaction we had today," Garrard said. "This is something that is worth looking into."


James Sinks can be reached at 503-566-2839 or at jamess@cyberis.net.




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