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Power rates are part of a big picture

Published April 16, 2006

The more water stands around in Klamath Basin waterways, the more evaporates - lost to any valuable use by farmers, fishermen and tribes. Yet back-to-back rulings by the Oregon and California public utility commissions encourage that prospect.

The decisions end a historic agreement that was one of the keys to power production on the Klamath River.

The case before the utility commissions was about the preferential power rates granted to irrigators in the Klamath Basin 50 years ago by PacifiCorp's predecessors. PacifiCorp operates a series of dams on the Klamath River. The price per kilowatt hour is about 8 or 9 percent of the normal rate.

In exchange for lower rates 50 years ago, the power company got a much steadier flow of water through its Klamath River dams to run its generators and produce power. And, of course, the agricultural development encouraged towns and businesses, which provided a market for the company's electricity. It was a good deal for the power company.

A key to that flow of water is efficiency of the Klamath Reclamation Project in which water is used seven to nine times and moved around by pumps before being returned to the Klamath River cleaner and colder than it was when it was taken out of Upper Klamath Lake, the project's primary reservoir.

To move water efficiently requires electricity for pumps. Higher rates makes it more costly - a lot more costly. For example, the Tulelake Irrigation District's biggest pumping plant has an annual power cost of $30,000 to $40,000. Under the decision by the California Utility Commission, the rate will go up to the full rate over four years - from 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour to 7.9 cents, or more than 12-fold. In Oregon, the increase will be phased in over seven years.

In asking for an increase, PacifiCorp said it was doing so out of a sense of fairness to its other customers who pay full freight. While it would seem to us that the irrigators' contribution to PacifiCorp's bottom line though good water management should count for more than they got, at least they got something.

At first, irrigators had been faced with no phase-in at all - an immediate jump to much higher power rates without much time to plan for it.

What they got, at least from Oregon, was summed up this way by Scott Seus, chairman of the Klamath Water Users Association's power committee: “It's not a home run, but a double. They recognize what we have advocated all along- there is is a credit for value.”

The power rate was part of a bigger struggle over Klamath River issues, and how those issues connect is a matter of legitimate conjecture.

There are organizations which want to throttle agriculture and ranching in the Upper Klamath Basin in the mistaken belief that the river and the fish will benefit. Supporting higher power rates is one way to attack irrigators, though we're not saying PacifiCorp has that mindset.

The licenses for the dams operated by PacifiCorp on the river are up for renewal, and, of course, there are the continued problems of fisheries on the river. All of these issues present ample opportunity to attack agriculture in the Upper Basin, even if such attacks aren't grounded in good science or fairness.

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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