Friday, March 14, 2008

Idaho Power presents transmission plan

Power line would add new or taller power poles beside highway

Express Staff Writer

One alternative posed by Idaho Power to route new transmission lines alongside state Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum would add height to power poles there. They could be as tall as 60 feet. Graphic by Idaho Power Co.

The mood was decidedly uncharged when about 30 people gathered at the Community Campus in Hailey on Wednesday, March 12, to hear Idaho Power present its plan to install a new 138-kilovolt electricity transmission line up the Wood River Valley's gut between Hailey and Ketchum.

What that means is the addition of a second set of power poles along the highway or additional height beyond the existing 35- to 55-foot tall power poles. If local-area distribution lines are combined on the same tower with the proposed higher-voltage transmission lines, the towers could be as tall as 60 feet.

The blueprint is the result of a year-long planning effort conducted by roughly 20 people, most of whom are Blaine County residents representing a diverse array of land-use planning interests. In January 2007, Idaho Power convened this Community Advisory Committee to review the electrical needs of the area and to draft a recommendation to meet electricity needs in the coming decades.

"We want to emphasize the build-out effort and the citizens' advisory committees that have been invaluable to us," said Idaho Power Community Relations Representative Dan Olmstead. "It's not just going to be something that's put on the shelf and forgotten. It's a road map."

The road map lays out $78 million in system upgrades throughout south-central Idaho, including installation of a 230-kilovolt transmission line between Hagerman and Magic Reservoir, a 138-kilovolt transmission line from Shoshone to Magic Reservoir and a 138-kilovolt transmission line between the intersection of Burma Road and Highway 75 on the Snake River Plain and Picabo.

The point of the proposed project in the Wood River Valley is twofold: to boost capacity for a growing community and to create redundancy for the northern Wood River Valley, which is now served by a lone transmission line.

"By the end of the process, I think everybody on the committee was absolutely convinced that we need another line from Hailey to Ketchum to ensure that if that main line went down, we wouldn't face not having anything in the way of energy here for some interminable period of time," said committee member and former Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig.

The addition of transmission capacity between Hailey and Ketchum is Idaho Power's top priority, and the proposal is expected to be launched later this year.

The proposal calls for installing a 138-kilovolt transmission line between the Wood River Transmission Station in Hailey and a substation in Ketchum. One 138-kilovolt line already runs east of state Highway 75 from Hailey north to Idaho Power's Elkhorn Substation. The second line, which would run alongside Highway 75, is needed "to increase the dependability of the electrical supply to the north end of the valley," the plan states.

"The north valley would be out of service, basically from north of East Fork, if an avalanche or something took out the existing line," said Idaho Power Delivery Planning Manager David Angell.

Harlig said that while the committee was unanimous in its understanding of the need for redundancy and increased carrying capacity, the issue of siting was less clear.

"That turned out to be more of a consensus than a unanimous direction, and that was because there were some people who just didn't want to see the lines," Harlig said. "The majority of the people said, 'Hey, we all like not to see them, but putting them in places we can't get to them or have a tough time repairing them isn't the right answer either.'"

The debate then turned to the issue of whether or not the lines should be buried. Overhead transmission lines would cost $250,000 to $300,000 per mile. Burial would cost 10 times that much—between $35 and $42 million for 14 miles.

"The preference, I think, for most people, if all things were equal, would be to underground all the lines," Harlig said. "What made that possibility more difficult was that it costs much more money to underground transmission lines than it costs to underground distribution lines."

Harlig said the committee carefully weighed alternatives. He believes it arrived at the most logical and fiscally responsible conclusions.

"You go through all these alternatives. You look at all of those that are reasonable, fiscally reasonable, and you eliminate a lot of alternatives because they just can't carry the load themselves or because they just have too many related problems that go with them," he said.

Idaho Power Project Leader Kent McCarthy stressed that presentation of the committee's findings does not in any way indicate the end of the public process. Rather, the opposite is true. Formation of the committee was an additional step added to the front end of the process, and the traditional process of going through public hearings and soliciting feedback from area governments has not yet begun.

"We've had some feeling from people up here in Ketchum that this is their one chance to comment on the line between Hailey and Ketchum, and that's not true," McCarthy said. "This is just the very first step. This is a new step in front of the old public process. Probably beginning later this summer or fall we'll begin the public process."

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