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Power Costs Pushing Irrigators

Rates have gone up 1,200 percent since 2006, when 1917 deal with power company expired

by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 10/13/11

In the past five years, Tulelake farmer John Crawford has seen his power rates increase by more than 1,200 percent and today, it costs him about $120 an acre to power irrigation pumps on his 325 acres of mint.


Crawford lives south of State Line Road, where power rates for irrigators are about twice as high as those who live across the road, said local farmer Steve Kandra.


But power rates have increased for Klamath Basin irrigators on both sides of the Oregon-California border since 2006, when a deal with PacifiCorp guaranteeing historically low power rates expired. In California, the rates have peaked. In Oregon, they’re still rising.


Unless something is done, those rates could push some of them out of business, irrigators say.


As part of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, Oregon irrigators are negotiating to receive an allocation of power from the Bonneville Power Administration.

California irrigators look to secure power from the Western Area Power Administration, said Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency.


Since 1917, power rates for Klamath Project irrigators had been less than 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. Oregon irrigators now pay 5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, and by April 2013, that rate will increase to 9.5 cents, the state’s tariff rate for irrigation power.


In California, the rate already has reached state tariff at nearly 12 cents per kilowatt- hour.


Before rates started increasing in 2006, it cost the Tulelake Irrigation District about $53,000 a year to run its irrigation pumps, Crawford said. Now it costs the district about $1.2 million a year.


$1.3 million per 1 cent


Power bills for Klamath Basin irrigators as a whole increase by about $1.3 million for each 1-cent increase in power rates, Cannon said.


When power rates for Oregon irrigators reach tariff, they will pay an estimated $11.4 million more a year for power than pre-2006. Higher power costs for irrigators means more money is leaving the Klamath Basin, Cannon said.


“It probably represents two or three businesses a year disappearing from the Klamath Basin,” he said. “You drive down South Sixth Street and look at how many empty businesses there are and you can attribute that to this economic slowdown in the Basin.”


Power rates now account for a large amount of irrigators’ expenses, Cannon said. It takes an average of 500 kilowatt-hours a year to irrigate one acre on the Klamath Project, he said.


Klamath Basin irrigators pump water from irrigation canals that are fed by Upper Klamath Lake or the Klamath River. Many districts have to pump water out, too. Water in the Tulelake Irrigation District must be pumped to Lower Klamath Lake then pumped to the Klamath River, a 35-foot elevation gain.


Flood irrigating, which requires more water but uses less power, could make a comeback in the Klamath Basin due to increasing power rates, Crawford said.


In recent years, farmers have spent millions of dollars installing more efficient sprinkler irrigation systems. But if power rates are too high for irrigators to power those sprinklers, many farmers could revert their fields to flood irrigation.


“If we don’t get some relief,” Crawford said, “… I think we’re going to see the day when most of the grain in the Klamath Basin is flood irrigated.”


Side Bars


Power costs pushing irrigators

Power rates and the KBRA

For local irrigators, establishing affordable power rates was one of the main objectives of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.


Since 2006, PacifiCorp power rates for local irrigators have been increasing from a historically low rate of less than 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. In Oregon, the rate will reach 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour by 2013. In California, the rate has already peaked at nearly 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.


As part of the KBRA, Oregon irrigators are negotiating with the Bonneville Power Administration and California irrigators are working with the Western Area Power Administration.


The KBRA aims to improve fish habitat, establish sustainable water supplies for irrigators and acquire a 92,000-acre tree farm for the Klamath Tribes. The agreement also would help irrigators develop renewable energy projects, like solar arrays and hydroelectric projects on irrigation canals, to reduce dependency on outside power sources.


“All of these things are important, but what’s most important to us is a legitimate water supply and reliable power rates,” said John Crawford, a Tulelake farmer. “That’s what the KBRA means to us.”


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