Controversy over an electrical transmission line in Oregon’s Tillamook County is expected to come to a head in 2018 as the developer pursues three key permits.
The 8.6-mile line would cross farmland and forestland, drawing opposition from landowners in its path who worry about impediments to agriculture and logging.
Opponents argue that a new transmission line between Tillamook and Oceanside isn’t justified by actual electricity demand, but may instead be intended as a connection to future wave power or offshore wind energy projects.
The Tillamook Public Utility District, the project’s developer, claims the transmission line is necessary to improve the reliability of the electrical grid and denies it’s motivated by renewable energy speculation.
Adding to the tension is the utility’s planned use of eminent domain to obtain easements along the transmission line’s route.
“It’s really angering people in the Tillamook area, as it should,” said Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coast Alliance conservation group.
To begin construction, the utility district would need to obtain a conditional use permit from Tillamook County, a fill-removal permit from the Department of State Lands and eminent domain authority from the Oregon Public Utility Commission.
Those three permits are pending and are expected to undergo public comment in the coming year.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association have both objected to the project.
For dairy farmers affected by the line, it’s problematic for multiple reasons, said Kurt Mizee, whose family owns Tilla-Bay Farms.
“Stray voltage,” which occurs when electricity essentially leaks into the ground, is one concern, he said.
The phenomenon is known to reduce milk production among dairy cows and harm their health.
The transmission line would also prevent aerial pesticide spraying over certain fields and its construction would be disruptive to grazing and silage harvesting, said Mizee.
A vibratory hammer will be used to install the transmission tower foundations, which is also disturbing to cattle due to the region’s soft, spongy soil, he said.
“They’ve offered us almost nothing as far as compensation for a pretty big impact,” said Mizee.
Forestland will also be negatively affected by the transmission line, which will require trees to be cleared along a right-of-way, said La Follette.
A 115-kilovolt transmission line would usually require a 100-foot wide right-of-way, but in this case, it may be narrower under certain circumstances, according to the Tillamook Public Utility District.
Landowners are also concerned about the health impacts to themselves and their livestock from being exposed to electromagnetic emissions, said La Follette.
In 2008, the Tillamook Public Utility District agreed to find possible connection points for a off-shore wind energy project to deliver electricity to its grid.
While that memorandum of agreement has since expired, it shows the utility district is at least open to the possibility of offshore renewable energy, La Follette said.
Todd Simmons, the utility district’s general manager, said the agreement with a developer was intended to allow the region to anticipate and plan for offshore energy.
However, the utility district doesn’t now have any plans to connect to such offshore projects, Simmons said.
Currently, a single distribution line serves about 3,000 properties in the Oceanside area, which is three times more prone to outages than other areas on the utility district’s grid, he said.
“When that line goes out, everybody’s out of power until we make that repair,” Simmons said. “We’re vulnerable with that one line.”
The distribution line is also at 90-95 percent electrical load capacity, so more capacity is needed to accommodate Oceanside’s eventual growth, he said.
Constructing a second distribution line — which has a smaller footprint than a transmission line — wouldn’t make sense because it could still be affected by falling trees or car collisions, he said.
In that situation, there would only be a single connection to Oceanside, which would result in brownouts when the community’s electricity needs eventually become greater than its load capacity, Simmons said. The transmission line, by comparison, would still be able to fully serve the community if the distribution line had to be repaired.
Simmons said the Centers for Disease Control have not found transmission lines to cause adverse health effects, and stray voltage won’t be an issue.
The electric pressure on a transmission line is so strong that it’s unlikely to leak electricity, unlike distribution lines, which have lower electrical pressure, he said.