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Irrigators should get some protection

 June 9, 2005

Local irrigators should be protected from the enormous shock of a 1,200 percent increase in their power rates, and that's why a measure to allow a phase-in approach makes sense. The measure, Senate Bill 81, has been approved in the House and is back in the Senate for approval of House amendments.

PacifiCorp has proposed a power rate that would bring irrigators up to market rates next year at the end of a 50-year contract with Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators. PacifiCorp says it has no choice but to do so under Oregon law, but irrigators disagree.

Viewed within the context of the times, the contract made sense. The company provided the lower power rates to irrigators in return for being allowed to develop dams on the Klamath River. Encouraging development through lower rates also made Klamath River streamflows more consistent - which helped power production - and provided a market for the power at market rates as agriculture increased and towns sprang up.

Project irrigators think that a deal should be struck that recognizes the value of agricultural development that was deliberately encouraged by the government, PacifiCorp and its corporate predecessors. They don't think that the rug should be pulled from underneath them, and neither do we.

Private businesses and governments make all kinds of deals to encourage and sustain development that helps the economy and provides jobs. The deal between Klamath Project irrigators and PacifiCorp falls into that category. There's nothing evil about the concept, though the devil may be in the details.

That the rates are going to go up is probably inevitable, and even justified to some extent.

SB 81 would allow the increase to be phased in over seven years in a way that guarantees there would be no be more than a 50 percent increase in any one year.

Dave Solem, Klamath Irrigation District manager, called the bill, "a safety net, or backup plan for Project and off-Project power users in the event that a reasonable rate isn't negotiated."

A safety net is exactly what it is and it would give irrigators some protection against an immediate rate increase that goes beyond reason, even while the fight over exactly what the rate will be goes on before the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

The answer from the commission is expected by Sept. 12. By then, the Legislature will have long since adjourned and, we hope, will have written some protection for the irrigators into law.

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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