Klamath power measure OK'd
July 12, 2005
Combined wire, local reports
The effects of a
potentially sharp rise in power costs for
Klamath Basin farm irrigators would be mitigated
under a House-passed bill that won Senate
The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Ted
Kulongoski, who is expected to sign it.
At issue is a plan by
Pacific Power to boost rates for about 1,300
farmers on the Klamath Reclamation Project and
neighboring lands when a 50-year contract
expires next April.
The contract is a result of deals dating to the
early 1900s that involve low-cost power
agreements and the utility's construction of
hydroelectric dams in the region.
Pacific Power wants to bring the contract
farmers' electric rates into line with those
charged to other irrigators, arguing that the
outdated contract rates are far below what's
needed to cover costs of generating and
delivering power and maintaining the system.
But analysts estimate that forcing an immediate
rate catch-up once the contract expires would
boost prices by an estimated 1,200 percent.
Farmers say absorbing a huge rate increase all
at once would drive some of them out of
The bill, Oregon Senate Bill 81, requires that
any rate increase, which needs approval of the
state Public Utility Commission, be phased in so
the affected customers would not face annual
increases of more than 50 percent for seven
Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said the
phase-in bill provides a ''critical safety net
for Klamath irrigators'' who otherwise could
face crippling power costs.
The bill passed by a
22-6 vote, with two members absent. Started in
the Senate, the bill was amended in the House
before coming back for vote. Originally the rate
phase-in would have applied to agricultural
increases statewide. In the House, the bill
became focused on Klamath, said Chris
Huntington, spokesman for Whitsett.
Irrigators, both on and
off Klamath Reclamation Project, still hope to
negotiate a deal with Pacific Power to keep the
power rate down. If the negotiations don't work,
then the bill will provide for protection, said
Ed Bartell, member of the Klamath Off-project
"We wanted a safety net for all the irrigators
to make sure that we wouldn't have a 1,000 to
2,000 percent increase overnight," he said.
The power rate issue has caused conflicts
between farmers who need water in the
drought-plagued region and environmental
activists who say a major rate boost could
reduce irrigation and conserve more water to
help threatened and endangered fish.
The irrigation power
prices are part of an overall 12.5 percent rate
increase request by Pacific Power that's pending
before the PUC. The agency said it expects to
decide on the request by early September.
On the Net: Senate Bill 81 www.leg.state.or.us