By Frank Lockwood

Staff writer

HERMISTON — In Hermiston, we’ve got the power!

Or do we?

Desspite generators at McNary Dam and new generating plants sprouting up almost as fast as potatoes and onions, Hermiston is worried about where the electricity will come from.

At Boardman, Portland General Electric’s largest generating was recently upgraded with a more efficient, higher output turbine. But many power companies have held off on building new generating plants, waiting for better markets or improved economic conditions

Oregon forbid building nuclear plants many years ago. Trojan nuclear power plant sat idle until it was dismantled last year. Salmon concerns have sent the shivers to electricity-dependent companies that were afraid environmentalists might succeed in removing hydroelectric dams. Then, this winter, rolling blackouts chilled sunny Californian spirits, and Governor Kitzhaber called on Oregonians to lower the thermostat to help the neighbors to the south.

Meanwhile, a few companies have been scrambling to develop additional or alternative electric power sources in the greater Hermiston area. Several other projects have come in recent years, like Coyote Springs Generating in Boardman. Hermiston Generating plant, near Lamb Weston, will come on the tax rolls for the first time next year, and, next to it, a second power plant, Umatilla Generating Project, is in the plans.

Meanwhile, work has started on Hermiston Power Project near the processing plant belonging to Simplot. With all those generating projects going on, one might think Hermiston has enough electricity to “shock” the whole town, but not so. After battling in court to gain independence from the Scottish-owned Pacific Power, city officials have been planning, along with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, to build yet another power plant and make the city’s own electricity.

Windmills, perhaps the cleanest alternative to hydro power, were built on the hills of Washington decades ago, but many said they were no match for the dams in producing low-cost power. Notwithstanding, wind is once again being taken seriously. PacifiCorp announced plans in January for the world’s largest wind-generating facility, to be built southwest of Walla Walla, on the Oregon-Washington border. The Stateline Generating Project is supposed to use as many as 450 windmills and to provide up to 300 Megawatts, enough for 70,000 homes. The Jan. 10 PaciCorp press release said, “Wind is no longer just a small niche in our supply, but ... a very real and significant part of the new electric resources the region badly needs.”

Meanwhile, diesel generator sales are reportedly up in California, causing groups such as Solstice (Sustainable Energy and Development Online) to comment that “California has to live with its choices for a long time.” An article discussing the issue was titled, “Diesel Power: Short, Dirty, and Dangerous Solution to Power Crisis?”

But California is not alone in facing tough choices. According to Oregon Department of Energy, the region’s traditionally low-cost, abundant electricity is running out in the face of increased demand and interstate competition for electricity, much of which is now sold on an open market. In mid-December, the U.S. Energy Secretary ordered Oregon and other Northwest utilities to make power available to California, although California was to return the power on a two-for-one exchange basis. As a result, Oregonians worried about shortages of electricity, while BPA discovered a sudden, short-term windfall of money.

Several details of the deregulated market hit home this winter:

Supply and demand can be slow to kick in. Power produced by deregulated private companies, whether in Hermiston or elsewhere, are no guarantee of adequate supplies or low prices here. Supply and demand may work in the long run, in the short run, Californian’s electricity went off.

Local control does not reach BPA and big suppliers. Power produced by Bonneville Power Administration can be ordered to other places; and the electricity could be curtailed or shut off in the dead of winter.

Mother Nature can mess up the best plans. Unexpected weather can stop other states or regions from fulfilling their end of the bargain when it comes to power swapping agreements. In theory California was supposed to be sending power to Oregon this past winter; instead they were asking Oregon to send power their way.

Things have changed: When it comes to electricity, Oregonians have had the power for a number of years, but those years may now be numbered. Wise leadership may be required if Oregonians are to keep the lights burning in the future windows of opportunity.

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