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Herald and News November 10, 2006

The lucrative California power market is the driving force behind a Japanese company's plans to purchase and build a natural-gas fired energy plant in the Langell Valley near Bonanza.

Construction will start as soon as the state approves a one-year extension of the plant's energy facility site certificate, say J-Power USA officials.

But some Bonanza residents don't want the plant, known as the Cob Energy Facility, saying it will deplete their groundwater and destroy air quality in their rural farming community.

Klamath County commissioners already approved plans for the plant, saying it will bring at least 10 full-time family-wage jobs and about $2.5 million a year into the county's general fund.

Commissioners say plant owners would pay $35.8 million to the county over 15 years. The contribution would be in lieu of property taxes after creation of an enterprise zone at the site. The deal, struck between the county and People's Energy Resource Co., will save plant owners $73.1 million in property taxes over 15 years, according to estimates prepared by county assessor Req LeQuieu. After the 15 years, the Cob plant would pay full property taxes to the county.

But Bonanza residents questioned the impact the proposed power plant will have on the environment. Thirteen residents attended a public hearing Wednesday sponsored by the Oregon Department of Energy. Ten testified against an extension of the plant's site certificate, citing water usage and air quality issues.

“One of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses are natural gas, fossil fuels and cars,” said one Bonanza resident, who didn't identify himself. “If Japan has signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, why do they want to come here and pollute the world?”

Another resident, who identified herself as a farmer, questioned the impact the Cob plant's water usage would have.

“The proposal for the plant says that you will be pumping 300 gallons of water a minute for six months of the year,” she said, “and 210 gallons a minute for the other six months. This is going to affect the groundwater we need for irrigation. They need to consider that.”

Trading power

J-Power USA wants to buy rights to build the Cob plant from People's Energy Resource Co. because the site is close enough to a trading energy substation for the company to sell power to California customers.

The Cob Energy Facility would be a natural-gas fired, combustion turbine, combined-cycle power generation plant. It is expected to have an average net output of 900 megawatts.

Steve Thome, J-Power USA's vice-president of development, said it would be air-cooled, not water-cooled.

The proposed site is two miles south of the intersection of Harpold Valley Road and West Langell Valley Road.

Under the terms of the proposal, the energy facility would employ at least 10 full-time workers at no less than 150 percent of the average wage in the county.

The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council originally approved the Cob facility in November 2004. But since Cob owners are seeking an extension, certain environmental and regulatory rules must be checked to see if the plant, as originally approved, meets any new state and federal requirements.

Klamath County commissioners voted 2-1 last year to approve the plant and the enterprise zone tax break. Commissioner Bill Brown voted against approval.

The next step

The public comment period on the COB extension was extended until Dec. 15, according to Adam Bless, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Energy.

After that, his department will write a “proposed order,” listing its conclusions and recommendations. The department will then post notice that the proposed order is written, and available for public review.

Once the public has had 30 days to comment on the proposed order, members of the public can call for a contested case, citing that the proposed order does not accurately reflect public comment.

After the 30-day period, the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council decides whether any contested cases are warranted. People who contested the case can speak directly to the council. If a contested case is granted, an independent hearings officer is appointed and the case begins. If there is no case, the council votes on the request for amendment.

“In my 17 years of doing this, I have seen one case rejected, a couple approved, and one bounced around for additional information,” Bless said. “We eventually convinced that group to withdraw their application.”


H&N Staff Writer
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