Legislation Puts Reliability and Local Control at Risk

The 2023 state legislative session is underway, and there is considerable activity on energy-related issues. Two bills have emerged that would undermine your electric cooperative’s system reliability and local governance.

SB 635 would grant authority to counties to levy uncapped and unlimited fees for building or maintaining utility poles and power lines within the rights-of-ways along county roads. This legislation would impose fees, create lengthy maintenance deferrals due to permitting delays and ultimately put electric reliability at risk.

CEC’s infrastructure spans 5,300 square miles, with thousands of miles of transmission, distribution and underground lines in five counties.

Electrical infrastructure in these rights-of-ways requires inspection, regular maintenance, upgrades and replacement to continue providing safe and reliable power to members.

Compounding the upkeep are unpreventable catastrophic weather events—such as wildfires and ice storms—creating significant system impacts requiring immediate repair, construction or alteration of service lines.

Currently, the permitting process with the multiple counties in CEC’s service territory is prompt and efficient. Empowering counties to impose new fees will be disruptive, creating additional bureaucracy and costly and lengthy delays.

HB 2846 would strike at the heart of local control, setting a terrible precedent. Currently, cooperatives may cap the generating capacity of members’ net-metered systems, leaving it to individual co-op’s governing bodies to determine whether it wants to go beyond the cap.

For example, CEC voluntarily surpassed the statutory mandate of net-metered systems in 2019 and now has three times the maximum amount of net-metered generating capacity on its system, reflecting members’ strong interest in solar.

No cooperative is the same. For some, especially in rural and frontier Oregon, going above the maximum statutory requirement may not work for them. Preserving local board decision-making is paramount, as it allows cooperatives to tailor policies to ensure their success.

Finally, momentum in Salem is building for drafting a statewide energy plan to help Oregon chart a low-carbon future. Any energy plan should embrace our incredible hydropower resources, including the lower Snake River dams. These facilities remain the best tools to keep rates affordable, lower carbon emissions and prevent blackouts during extreme weather events, such as the ones Oregonians have experienced in the past several years.

We have much work to do and will provide timely updates on any developments during this long legislative session.

Dave Markham, President and CEO