Cassia County gave its backing Tuesday to a letter directed to state utilities officials that calls the proposed Gateway West high-voltage electrical transmission project "unnecessary and ill advised."
The thousand-mile transmission project that would stretch across Wyoming and southern Idaho remains under review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Proposed by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, its necessity would be determined by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission if it earns BLM approval, possible by June 2013.
The letter drafted by attorney Doug Balfour, who represents both Cassia and Power counties regarding Gateway West, claims that the project's $2 billion cost would eventually be passed on to the utilities' customers.
"Rate payers need the PUC to assert its power and customer protection on this project, immediately," the letter reads.
Lynette Berriochoa, spokeswoman for Idaho Power in Boise, said she wasn't familiar with the letter's contents and the power company's project team would like to examine it before making any comment.
She said the project team has worked with property owners and Cassia County officials and she believes "a lot of those conversations were valuable in moving the project forward." Berriochoa said Idaho Power would like to continue those relationships.
Cassia County Commissioner Paul Christensen said Tuesday that as a county official he is relying on the expertise of State Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who helped draft the letter.
The letter claims that the project's necessity is based largely on outdated analysis of future electricity needs done between 2007 and 2009.
"The counties believe that many of the assumptions used by Idaho Power to justify this extremely expensive project are faulty, based upon assumptions that are not likely, or have not proven true since that 2009 IRP (integrated resource plan)," according to the letter. "Any conditions that existed several years ago that may have indicated a need for the Gateway West Project have either disappeared or been proven incorrect."
The letter goes on to claim that Idaho Power ratepayers would foot the bill for a project not needed to deliver electricity to its customers, making Gateway West "a purely merchant transmission line, to transmit electrical power from coal and wind generation in Wyoming to areas of California and the desert southwest."
Although Cassia County Commissioner Bob Kunau signed off on the letter, he questioned whether the project was not mentioned in Idaho Power's 10-year plan simply because it would not be finished or usable in that time. The letter asserts that the project's exclusion from that plan points to its lack of necessity.