Klamath power rate measure passes
The Oregon House
easily approved a bill Thursday that would
ease the effects of a potential increase in
power costs for Klamath Basin farmers who
benefit from below-market rates.
The measure, approved 47-10, would phase in a
rate boost that's sought by Pacific Power by
limiting year-to-year increases for seven
years. The bill now goes to the Senate.
PacifiCorp seeks to
raise electric rates for 1,300 customers on
the Klamath Reclamation Project and
neighboring lands by as much as 1,200 percent,
to market rates, when the current 50-year
contract expires next April.
The rate request is pending before the state
Public Utility Commission.
A team of irrigators from the Klamath Water
Users Association has been working on the
issue since 1998, and has been talking with
PacifiCorp officials for a year and a half.
The talks have now moved before the
The goal for irrigators is to get a
"reasonable" rate, or an increase they can
bear, said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath
Irrigation District. The bill would provide
some protection while talks continue, he said.
"It's a safety net or backup plan for Project
and off-Project power users in the event that
a reasonable rate isn't negotiated," Solem
said. "Everything is still on the table."
Under the measure, Senate Bill 81, there would
be a gradual transition to market rates so
customers would not face year-to-year price
increases of more than 50 percent for seven
The contract stems
from deals in the early 1900s involving
low-cost power agreements and the construction
of hydroelectric dams in the region.
The company says rates
are far below those needed to generate and
deliver power and maintain infrastructure.
Current power rates, at about half a cent per
kilowatt hour, make for a more efficient
irrigation project, Solem said. Farmers, the
district and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
all use electric pumps that help conserve and
Farmers say absorbing a huge rate increase all
at once would drive some of them out of
''If you don't think a
power increase of 1,200 times will kill,
you're wrong,'' said Rep. Bill Garrard,
R-Klamath Falls. Garrard spoke in favor of the
measure on the House floor Thursday.
An economist's report last year concluded that
most but not all lands would remain productive
at the electric rates.
The power rate issue
produces conflicts between farmers who want
water in the drought-plagued region for their
crops and activists who are backing the rate
boost because that could reduce irrigation and
conserve more water to help threatened and
Steve Pedery of the Oregon Natural Resources
Council said Thursday that delaying the full
implementation of full market rates would cost
other Pacific Power customers an estimated $20
million that they otherwise could avoid
''The money has to
come from somewhere,'' he said.