PGE Mulls Plan to Cut Trees in Forest Park to Upgrade Transmission Lines, Phone Poll Indicates

Pollsters are seeking favorability ratings for the utility, its customers and local politicians.

FLOAT ON: Forest Park stretches north of the St. Johns Bridge. (NASHCO)

Portland General Electric has been polling residents in its service area, asking them how they would feel if the power company, Oregon’s largest, were to cut down trees on 3 acres of land in Forest Park above Linnton in order to boost electricity transmission.

Pollsters are also asking for favorability ratings on PGE itself, Intel Corp., Nike Inc., the Forest Park Conservancy, Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council, according to a person who received one of the calls but wished to remain anonymous. Forest Park covers 5,200 acres.

Spokeswoman Andrea Platt confirmed that PGE had commissioned the calls.

“PGE is exploring upgrading and enhancing existing equipment to meet growing electricity usage needs and to enhance the resilience of our grid,” Platt said in an email. “We have long operated transmission lines and equipment in the existing utility corridor easements within Forest Park. It’s important for us to check in periodically with the public about how they feel about needed projects. Any work would have to meet the high standards and requirements of involved city bureaus and public processes.”

The PGE lines in question are within existing easements, Platt said, and are in an area where PGE lines run parallel to those owned by the Bonneville Power Administration.

The Forest Park Conservancy didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment. A spokesman for Portland Parks & Recreation didn’t have information immediately available on the matter.

Demand for PGE’s power is growing, especially among industrial customers. In a presentation to investors released today, Portland-based PGE said it expects energy deliveries to rise 2% per year through 2027 “driven by high-tech industrial customers.”

Demand from industry rose at a compound annual growth rate of 7.5% from 2018 through last year, according to the presentation. That demand is poised to surge as chipmaker Intel spends billions on new plants in Oregon to compete with rivals.

Semiconductor plants are among the most energy-intensive operations in the world. A typical fab, as they are known, uses as much energy in a year as 50,000 homes, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. Some fabs build their own power plants to meet demand.

Almost all of PGE’s power sources—hydroelectric dams, gas turbines, coal plants and wind farms—are located east of the Willamette River, while many of its largest industrial customers, like Intel, have operations west of it, according to a map of PGE’s assets.

Transmission grids are under strain as more cars, houses and factories turn to clean electricity to fight climate change. To reach the Biden administration’s goal of generating 100% of America’s power from renewable sources by 2035, the U.S. must double grid capacity, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement in October.

Grid upgrades are also essential to preventing wildfires, which raged in Oregon in 2020 after powerful winds damaged power lines. Property owners sued PacifiCorp for the blazes, claiming that the utility ignored warnings to shut off power during a windstorm that Labor Day Weekend.

A jury sided with those plaintiffs last June, finding PacifiCorp liable for the fires and ordering the company to pay for damage to property and for emotional distress. Last month, PacifiCorp filed a notice with the Oregon Court of Appeals in the case.

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