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Power bill gets hearing

Bill would increase PacifiCorp rates to pay for removing 4 dams

By Ty Beaver, Herald and News 2/4/09

Opponents who argue a bill to raise power rates would open the door to future unchecked rate increases squared off Tuesday with those who say the bill prevents such abuses and paves the way for resolving ongoing Klamath Basin issues.

The Oregon Legislature’s Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee hosted its first hearing on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s bill to raise $180 million to help pay for removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

Supporters say the bill — which would increase power rates for PacifiCorp’s average Oregon customer by about $1.50 a month — is needed to implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement . They dismiss claims the legislation would expose ratepayers to increased financial liability if dam removal occurs.

Whitsett opposes

But opponents, including state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R -K amath Falls, have said the bill leaves ratepayers on the hook and criticize it for making Oregonians pay for removal of three dams in California. The fourth dam, J.C. Boyle, is in Klamath County.

Proponents include the Citizens’ Utility Board, a ratepayer advocacy group. Craig Tucker of the Karuk Tribe, said the state’s Public Utilities Commission will be required to review the bill even if it is approved by the state Legislature.

“We feel so confident that this is the best deal, we have no problem with that,” he said. Open to increases

But Whitsett contends the bill’s wording leaves ratepayers open to further rate increases, possibly as high as $35 to $ 65 per month, while also pointing out that the full cost of dam removal is not yet known.

Tucker countered charges the bill was flawed, saying opposition is more due to an ideological opposition to dam removal itself.

The restoration agreement allocates water in the Klamath River Basin among irrigators, conservationists, tribes and fisheries.

Dam removal is key component and must happen for it to be implemented.

A group of stakeholders, state and federal officials and representatives from PacifiCorp reached a tentative dam removal agreement in November. They have until July 1 to hammer out a final agreement, with dam removal beginning no later than the year 2020.

Kulongoski promised he’d bring about the legislation during the current legislative session that would direct the state’s Public Utility Commission to raise PacifiCorp’s rates to pay for dam removal.

California bonds

The $ 180 million, along with $20 million from PacifiCorp’s ratepayers in other states, will be combined with $250 million in voter approved bonds from the state of California to help pay for dam removal.

PacifiCorp has said that the increase would raise the average Oregon customer’s bill by about $1.50 a month. Agricultural power users would see about a 2-percent increase in their bill.

If dam removal does not take place, the money would be returned to ratepayers.

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