Co-op also Seeks Secure Futureby Kathy Gray
The Dalles Chronicle, December 17, 2006
As Bonneville Power Administration's "regional dialogue" predicts a time when electrical utilities will see a limit to the availability of cheap Northwest hydropower, Wasco Electric Co-op must also find ways to secure its future.
Wasco Electric is participating in that discussion through regional organizations such as Northwest Regional Utilities.
Unlike their neighbors in Northern Wasco County PUD, the electrical cooperative most likely won't be developing its own power generation facilities, said Cathy Wilson, the retiring general manager of Wasco Electric.
The electric cooperative, which serves just under 3,000 clients in Wasco, Sherman and parts of Jefferson, Gilliam and Wheeler counties, operates primarily in rural areas and small communities such as Pine Hollow (their highest-density service area), Maupin, Shaniko, Antelope and parts of Rufus.
Because of its more gradual growth trend, once Wasco Electric's Tier 1 power supply - the most affordable BPA power available to utilities, which is expected to supply co-op requirements until 2011 - has been fixed, Wilson expects the utility to study the best way to supplement that amount for new loads. "We expect, until that time, we will have our full requirement still met on Tier 1 power," Wilson noted. "But the decision will have to be made within the next 1 to 1? years what to do when we grow out of that."
That will be a decision for the cooperative's board to make as the regional dialogue continues to play out. Bonneville is expected to unveil its tentative record of decisions early next year, outlining future plans that could affect power rates in the Pacific Northwest for generations.
Looking ahead Wilson envisioned the possibility of purchasing renewable power from co-op members in the future.
"Some of our members are starting wind farms," she said. "But if we did that, it would still have to be coordinated with other sources of power."
Transmission is a challenge for renewable resources, Wilson noted, but Wasco Electric's close proximity to several large wind farm developments reduces transmission as an issue.
Wilson didn't entirely rule out the possibility of the co-op partnering in a generation facility.
"If someone brings something to the board, we would be open-minded and take a look at a proposal," she said.
As it is currently proposed, Wasco Electric, which sells about 9.7 megawatt hours of power each year, is small enough to be exempt from the Renewable Profile Standards (RPS) included in the governor's statewide renewable energy proposal, however Wasco Electric and other cooperatives are watching the legislation with interest.
"While we support incentives, such as the production tax credit that was extended for another year through 2008 by Congress last week, we oppose mandates that would take away local controll of our electric cooperative by the elected board of directors and change it to control by state agencies," Wilson said.
Requirements such as the expectation to have the state government operate solely with renewable power would double the cost to the state and drive up renewable power prices, Wilson said.
"By putting a mandate that utilities have to build or use renewables, it makes it so there's not any real negotiation," she explained.
Wasco Electric is also keeping an eye on renewables from a supplier's standpoint.
"Renewable generation projects are out in the rural parts of the county," Wilson said. "They affect us all."
The three Klondike wind generation developments in Sherman County are within Wasco Electric's service district, she noted. With so much new generation constructed in recent years, or under construction, coordinating the many new transmission lines has been a project the co-op has been closely involved in. Wasco Electric, like many rural cooperatives that started in the 1940s, is also dealing with the need to reconstruct much of its distribution system.
"The system is 65 years old," Wilson said. "It's time to rebuild."
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