A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Pacific Power to expand Hazelwood sub

Written July 10th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

The substation as seen from Hazelwood Park. The fence is to be replaced with an 8-foot-tall security fence topped by barbed wire.

Pacific Power intends to expand its Hazelwood Substation in West Albany, and the city’s hearings board will review the utility’s request in a virtual hearing scheduled for July 30.

The Albany Community Development Department posted a notice of the application and the hearing on Thursday.

The substation lies between Southwest Queen Avenue and 17th Avenue. It serves to reduce power from a 115,000-volt transmission line to 69,000 volts for distribution to smaller substations.

To expand the station, which lies in a single-family residential zoning district, the utility needs city approval of a conditional use. It has also asked to combine six lots, including the five it owns on 17th Avenue and the one on Queen, into one.

Pacific submitted a site plan for cutting down trees on the property, plus a request for variances to allow an 8-foot-tall security fence topped by barbed wire in a residential zone, and one for not having landscaping around the perimeter.

The three-member hearings board will consider the application at a “virtual” meeting at 4 p.m. July 30. To take part, the public can log in or listen on the phone.

The city’s notice doesn’t say why Pacific wants to expand the substation. But scattered reports going back several years and available online list the Hazelwood expansion as one of many Pacific projects to improve the electric transmission system in line with requirements.

The city says the request will be considered in the light of approval standards of the Albany Development Code. But that’s unrealistic. How can a big substation surrounded by barbed wire be “consistent with the intended character of the base zone,” which the code requires, if the zoning is single-family residential?

This substation is an important part of the electric system. When a breaker there failed in April 2014, thousands of people lost power all the way to Corvallis. If it’s necessary for the system to work, then it has to be expanded regardless of what it says in the code. (hh)

This boarded-up house owned by Pacific Power on 17th Avenue will give way to the expanded substation.

5 responses to “Pacific Power to expand Hazelwood sub”

  1. Bill Kapaun says:

    Maybe if they plant a tree?

  2. Rick Staggenborg says:

    The big question is whether the expansion is actually necessary to improve service. It’s hard for a non-expert to know if the real problem is maintenance rather than capacity. It’s important to realize that for-profit utilities make money from spending on capital rather than maintenance because that allows them to charge more. That’s why Pacific Power let their lines deteriorate in California to the point where it cost them billions after they sparked deadly wildfires a couple of years ago.

    “Because it allows the utility company to receive a rate of return on its capital investments, the traditional model encourages utility providers to invest more capital into their operations—the more capital the utility company and its investors put in, the bigger the returns.”


    • Hasso Hering says:

      Pacific Power had nothing to do with deadly wildfires in California. That was Pacific Gas and Electric, a utility not related to PacifiCorp.

    • Al Nyman says:

      As somebody who has a relative who is a lineman for Pacific Power, I can assure you that PP spends as little as possible and the power outages where I live are a result of PP not wanting to spend the money to fix them. Also, repairs and maintenance are not capital but detract from current earnings which Warren Buffet would not like.

      • centrist says:

        Al N
        I won’t try to speak for what your relative knows.
        Let me point out that no commercial or industrial operation is running without identified faults. As long as the effect is tolerable, the prudent strategy is to monitor.
        Further, PacPwr isn’t alone in making the decision. WE the PEOPLE, thru the PUC have a hand in deciding what gets funded from the rates.


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