Tillamook People’s Utility District (TPUD) is now working aggressively towards a new 115 kv transmission line between Tillamook and Oceanside; according to the District, the likely need was identified in a 2005 long range planning document. TPUD’s stated reasons for the line include increasing load growth (i.e., demand for electricity), system reliability and replacement of aging infrastructure. In fact, load growth has slowed from forecasts a decade ago, as TPUD itself admits. However, the District says that electric loads at its Wilson River substation reach near capacity and stress the entire system during high demand periods, such as winter. TPUD also cites the need to replace infrastructure, especially along the distribution line serving Netarts and Oceanside, which could be more easily done if the new transmission line were in place to reduce outages.
There continues to be strong skepticism about TPUD’s needs for additional transmission capacity. One of the principal issues is whether or not TPUD is proposing this line in order to position itself for wave energy transmission, should wave energy become a major new source of power off the Tillamook County coast. TPUD denies that wave energy is a reason for this line, but also admits that the line will have excess capacity available. The 2009 Oregon Wave Energy Trust market study identified baseline wave power capacity on the coast as a major problem, as it is currently quite low; it would need to be increased through new transmission capacity if wave energy became a significant addition to the power mix. The OWET study also pointed out that a central issue in the ability to transmit wave energy from the coast to the grid is network bottlenecks, which produce line overloading.
TPUD originally applied for the required permit from the City of Tillamook for the City portion of the proposed line. The City Planning Commission approved the permit after a superficial hearing, but two impacted business owners appealed. Tillamook City Council reversed, and denied the District its permit. TPUD appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals. But in a January 2014 opinion, LUBA upheld the City Council decision. After workshops, a “citizens’ advisory” committee and one-on-one discussions with impacted landowners, both in Tillamook and in the rural areas, TPUD finalized its route proposal for the second time. The report is available here.
In late 2017, TPUD began submitting the applications needed to permit the line. They filed an application with Tillamook County. They also filed an application with the Department of State Lands (DSL) for the removal-fill and wetland permits. Most startling of all, they filed an application with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) for the right to use eminent domain against the affected landowners. Nearly all of the landowners signed a petition opposing the line. TPUD, realizing they would not have cooperative landowners, filed for the right to use eminent domain against their own customers: farmers, dairy operations, rural residents and forest owners. Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Dairy Farmers Association and the Tillamook Farm Bureau have all written letters opposing the line and the use of eminent domain.
The Oceanside Line is clearly not needed. Tillamook PUD is setting itself up for major controversy by seeking to use eminent domain against members of its own community. Major decisions about this proposal are looming in 2018 as the various applications are considered in the public forum.