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That Dam Bill

Ratepayers and regulators want PGE to explain a land donation.

Willamette Week, posted 4/23/08

PGE’s Riverdance: Some PGE ratepayer groups say the utility may have given up their millions when it did a transaction that included blowing up a Sandy River dam.
IMAGE: Dennis Culver
BY NIGEL JAQUISS | njaquiss at wweek dot com
Blowing up a dam is fun. Figuring out who should pay and how much? Not so much fun.

When Portland General Electric removed the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River last September, the explosion marked the end of a complicated 23-party negotiation dating back a decade to restore the Sandy’s free flow to the Pacific.

It would have been the end, except ratepayer groups and the Oregon Public Utility Commission now want PGE to provide a better explanation of a related land donation that came out of its customers’ pockets.

Next month, the PUC will consider PGE’s request to donate 729 acres of prime land around the former dam site, which lies about 40 miles east of Portland, to a conservation group. That donation provides some valuable green cover for PGE as the Sierra Club sues the utility over emissions at its coal-fired plant in Boardman, Oregon’s only such facility.

Under terms negotiated years ago, PGE will give the Sandy River land—which the utility says has an appraised value of about $7 million—to the Portland-based Western Rivers Conservancy. The conservancy will package the land with other nearby property and sell the combination to the federal Bureau of Land Management. With the proceeds, it will buy more riparian land to create a salmon-friendly corridor along the Sandy.

Here’s the rub: PGE customers bought the land with their monthly utility payments. If PGE sold the land directly to the BLM for cash, customers would get a credit from that sale on their bills. They get no financial benefit from the giveaway.

The utility says there’s a good reason for that. Gail Baker, a PGE spokeswoman, says the land donation is part of a bigger transaction

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