By CARL SAMPSON
Like many other residents of the West, I can look forward to a New Year's present in 2011. It will arrive in the mail from PacifiCorp in the form of a 14.5 percent increase in my electricity bill.
Like other electricity customers around the West, I can send my thank-you card to the state and federal lawmakers who want to disassemble the power grid that has served the Western economy well and replace it with a patchwork of wind turbines, solar panels and other intermittent forms of power generation.
Can hamsters on treadmills be far behind?
What's the attraction of these Rube Goldberg power networks, and why are they preferred over reliable and proven energy sources?
The answer is simple, really. They are "renewable." Never mind that they require huge subsidies from customers and the federal and state governments. And never mind that when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, they are little more than oversized lawn ornaments.
For the record, it should be noted that the main type of renewable energy in the West is hydropower, yet in Oregon the legislature specifically excluded it from the definition of "renewable" power. This was done for political reasons, because legislators didn't want to offend the environmental lobby.
At the same time, the coal-fired, 585-megawatt generation plant at Boardman, Ore., which also provides cheap and reliable power to the region, will be shut down in 10 years, unless its fuel source can be switched to biomass or some other more politically acceptable yet subsidized fuel.
Some $1.9 billion -- including a $1.3 billion federal loan guarantee -- will be spent on 336 wind turbines in rural Gilliam and Morrow counties, making it one of the largest wind farms in the world.
I should say here that I am not opposed to wind turbines. I'm opposed to subsidizing wind turbines.
PacifiCorp customers are not alone in their rate-increase pain. Portland General Electric is jacking up its rates by 3.5 percent, and in Eastern Idaho, Rocky Mountain Power -- a subsidiary of PacifiCorp -- wants to jump its rates by 13.5 percent.
In Washington state, PacifiCorp has asked for a nearly 21 percent rate increase. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission staff has recommended that it be cut to "only" 11 percent. The commission will decide on the jump next spring.
Most of these increases are directly tied to the push for "renewable" power and the transmission lines to add the wind power to the grid.
This is all due to ill-timed, illogical and ill-conceived legislation passed by legislatures around the West and in Congress that sucks the money out of consumers' and taxpayers' pockets and delivers it to the altar of environmentalism.
Electricity customers like myself, irrigators and farmers and ranchers across the West are stuck with the bill for this boondoggle. In fact, we get double the pleasure, because our taxes will also go up to cover the government's share of the costs.
In this economy, a 14.5 percent increase -- or any increase, for that matter -- is a shock.
It only adds insult to economic injury.