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State panel OKs Cob

Glenn Barrett, a Water for Life board member, talks about the effect the Cob Energy Facility would have on availability of water for Langell Valley residents during a meeting of the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council at the Klamath County Fairgrounds Thursday.

Published November 5, 2004

By ANGELA TORRETTA

The Cob Energy Facility cleared its biggest regulatory hurdle Thursday by gaining approval from the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.

The plant still faces economic issues, including a tax break being sought at the local level. And Cob opponents say they will appeal the siting council's decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.

But this week's action by the Siting Council concludes an application process begun nearly three years ago by Chicago-based Peoples Energy. The seven members of the council are volunteer citizens appointed by the governor to oversee the placement of new energy plants in the state.

A handful of farmers and ranchers attended all-day sessions as the Council deliberated Wednesday and Thursday.


The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council meeting at the Klamath County Fairgrounds was attended by representatives of Peoples Energy, the Oregon Department of Energy, Water for Life and Save Our Rural Oregon.

 

The Council heard testimony Thursday from attorneys on both sides of the issue, as well as Langell Valley residents, on whether the water supply in the Bonanza area would be affected by the proposed plant.

Wednesday's session examined land-use issues - specifically, how great an impact the proposed plant would have on a lightly populated area.

After hearing seven hours of testimony Thursday, on top of the previous day's eight hours, Siting Council members agreed unanimously to approve the plant.

The 1,150-megawatt natural gas-fired plant would be located about three miles southeast of Bonanza and 21 miles east of downtown Klamath Falls.

Although the plant has final approval from the state of Oregon, whether the plant actually materializes is still to be decided. Anti-Cob group Save Our Rural Oregon has plans to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Lyn Brock, who has spearheaded Save Our Rural Oregon, said that she isn't surprised by the Siting Council's decision. But she plans on fighting it.

"We've been sure for a long time that this is the decision the state wanted (the Siting Council) to make, regardless of the evidence," she said.

Thursday's discussion before the Siting Council focused on whether the proposed plant would use more than its fair share of water. Cob lawyers claimed the amount of projected water has been reduced by 97 percent since the facility changed plans from a water-cooled system to an air-cooled one. In the new system, about 300 gallons of water per minute would be used.

Peter Mostow, a lawyer representing the proposed plant, said that may sound like a large number, but that it should be compared to amounts used in irrigating crops.

He estimated that, in the same one-minute period, 300 gallons would irrigate 33 acres of farm land in the Klamath Basin. Mostow said he didn't want to minimize the concerns of residents, but that they shouldn't "let the tail wag the dog."

"I don't want to allow the concerns of this community to get overblown," he told the five-member council.

Bonanza resident Margaret Tenold questioned Peoples Energy's judgment in choosing the area for a site at all, and asked specifically why they first proposed a water-cooled facility.

"Why come to the Klamath Basin knowing our water problems?" she asked, referring to the water crisis of 2001.

Water For Life, a group representing irrigators, shared a table with Save Our Rural Oregon, Tenold and geologist Gail Whitsett, all of whom have been fierce Cob opponents since the plant was proposed in late 2001.

Brock compared the water right issue to a dinner table with too many people and not enough food.

The Siting Council listened to recommendations of hearings officer Virginia Gustafson, and conferred with lawyers from the Oregon Department of Justice before voting on a list of specific issues related to the Cob permit.

The panel then voted at last on the permit itself. All of the votes were unanimously in favor of the Cob facility.

Council members also considered the validity of arguments presented by Whitsett. Whitsett claimed that because of the site's location on a fault line it could be damaged if the area had another earthquake.

The Siting Council dismissed the argument, saying that the facility would be required to build in compliance with earthquake safety codes.

 

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