Oregon regulators set deadline
for irrigator rates
June 8, 2005
By DYLAN DARLING
By this fall, Oregon
officials will decide whether power rates for
Klamath Basin irrigators will go up.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission said
Tuesday it will decide two issues at the same
time: Whether rates for irrigators should go
up as much as tenfold, and whether PacifiCorp
should be able to raise rates 12 percent
A decision is expected
no later than Sept. 12, said Bob Valdez,
"There will be a decision by Sept. 12, but
that does mean the rates will be going up
then," he said.
A 50-year-old contract inked by PacifiCorp's
predecessor has kept rates at about half a
cent per kilowatt hour for irrigators in and
just outside of the Klamath Reclamation
Project. The contract for Project irrigators
is set to expire on April 16, 2006, and the
contract for off-Project irrigators doesn't
have an expiration date, according to the PUC.
PacifiCorp has argued that both contracts
should be terminated and the irrigators' rate
increased to what other irrigators pay in
Irrigators argue that the company benefits
from the Project's existence and that federal
law requires them to offer irrigators the
"lowest reasonable rate available," said Lynn
Long, a farmer near Lower Klamath Lake and
member of the Klamath Water Users
Association's power committee.
"It's cut and dried, plain and simple," Long
What's not simple is a tangle of
jurisdictions, contracts, laws, new
legislation and negotiations.
"That thing is so
mixed up that average folks can't understand
it, and I'm one of those average folks," Long
Some complicating factors:
n Irrigators holding contracts with PacifiCorp
are also in two states. Oregon's legislature
is working on a law that would phase in any
rate increase that if passed, wouldn't affect
irrigators on the California side of the
n A potential
jurisdictional struggle between the state
commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory
Many of the irrigators also wanted a decision
about a rate increase held until the federal
commission relicenses PacifiCorp's
hydroelectric project on the Klamath River.
The company's license
expires in 2006, its 7,000-page renewal
application is in and the federal process
could lag for several years.
"All of the irrigator parties are arguing that
the reduced rate should be a condition of the
FERC license," said Edward Bartell, a Sprague
River rancher and member of the Klamath
Off-Project Water Users.
Even if the PUC rules
that the irrigators' rates should go up, that
doesn't mean they will, said Scott Seus, a
Tulelake farmer and member of the Klamath
Water Users Association's power committee. He
said FERC will have the final say.
The PUC says differently. Its order says FERC
has twice declared that the rates PacifiCorp
charges to its retail customers are not
relevant to its relicensing review. And, "this
Commission, not FERC, has jurisdiction over
rates charged by PacifiCorp to its Oregon
Seus said the
irrigators are taking the rate issue one step
at a time and they are still disseminating the
"This is just one little brick in a brick path
from now to April," Seus said. "There's a long
time from now until then."