Irrigators brace for power bill hike
June 9, 2007 Herald and News
Klamath Basin irrigators in Oregon are preparing for an increase
in their power bills, while Pacific Power and irrigator advocates
scramble to find a short-term solution to rising rates.
The loss of a half-cent credit to irrigators is the latest blow to
agriculture in the Basin. The region is already under pressure
from rising power rates and initiatives to increase water
ďItís one more thing piling on,Ē said Greg Addington, executive
director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
Oregon irrigators declined to say how they would be affected by
the loss of the credit, but a glimpse at the California side of
the Basin where power costs also are increasing demonstrates what
may eventually happen in Oregon.
A recent ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
determined that a credit provided to energy customers in the
Pacific Northwest by the Bonneville Power Administration was
illegal. That credit reduced project irrigator power costs by half
earlier this year.
Pacific Power officials said the credit was offered as a way of
spreading benefits of hydroelectric power across the state.
The courtís decision and resulting cost increase stem from
litigation filed by regional public utilities. Officials with
those utilities contended the credit, which only applied to
customers of investor-owned utilities, gave companies such as
Pacific Power unfair benefits.
Toby Freeman, regional community manager for Pacific Power, said
he thinks the public utilities didnít intend to completely
eliminate the credit, they just thought it was worth too much. Now
the money that would have been disbursed to the utilities will sit
in an account.
ďThe issue isnít that there is a credit, but how much is it
worth,Ē Freeman said.
The loss of the credit is immediate, effective on bills charging
for June power usage.
The effects of increasing power rates are beginning to show.
John Cross, president of the Newell Potato Cooperative, said more
growers renting his land are resorting to flood irrigation because
it requires little to no power. He purchased and is using diesel
pumps despite the high cost of that energy source as well.
Addington said a similar situation could happen on the Oregon side
of the Basin without the credit to help defray costs. Resorting to
flood irrigation would reduce power costs, but strain the regionís
already delicate water situation, and some parts of the Basin
simply canít do without powered irrigation.
Luther Horsley, a Midland irrigator, doesnít know exactly how much
the loss of the credit would affect his 1,000 acres of irrigated
alfalfa and grain, but he knows it will increase his costs.
ďItís another added expense weíre going to have to deal with,Ē he
Freeman said Pacific Power and other utilities that received the
credit have filed briefs with the court regarding the case but
only BPA can ask for a rehearing of the case, and it is unclear
how soon that would take place, if ever.
Addington said his organization is looking for options, such as
forming a public utility district for irrigators or utilizing
energy sources such as solar or low-head hydro in canals and
ditches. But those measures would take time and money to
implement, something the current situation does not provide.
- By Ty Beaver