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Power plants sound like a good thing, but the proof is in the details

The proposal to site two multi-million-dollar power plants at the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park brings with it equal helpings of promise and concern. That's true of any project of this magnitude.

But even at this early stage of the planning process, we are willing to confess an excitement for what this could mean to Troutdale and all of East County.

Still, that excitement in tempered by plenty of unknowns. So let's tackle this from both angles.

On the promising side, the investment could be more than $850 million. At that level, the project would mean great things for the tax base, eventually adding tax revenue that benefits local government - schools, city, port and county - for decades to come.

It also would represent a significant boost for short-term construction jobs, and it would create 25 to 35 high-end and long-term technical jobs. In today's economy, any mention of new jobs is a step in the right direction.

The project also would make wise use of a hard-to-develop piece of property that otherwise might languish for years, providing no benefit to the tax base.

Experts with the Port of Portland explain that the site would be difficult to develop for conventional warehousing or manufacturing because of its close proximity to a high-quality wetland, and because the lot is dotted with monitoring wells. When combined, those things make the site unattractive to conventional development. But the site is a perfect fit for a power plant, which would allow for flexibility in its design and space needs. The site also is near a natural gas pipeline, which would fuel the plant. And it's close to transmission lines, which would deliver the electricity generated by the plant.

So, from those perspectives, we're looking forward to learning in greater detail exactly what the developers have in mind. And that's where promise turns to concern over the unknown.

ENVIROMENTAL IMPACT: The proposed power plant would replace the Boardman coal-fired plant operated by Portland General Electric in Eastern Oregon. The coal-fired plant is Oregon's single-largest source of greenhouse emissions, and PGE has decided to close the plant by 2020 to avoid spending more than $470 million on upgrades.

The Troutdale project is viewed as a replacement for the power generation lost when the Boardman plant eventually closes.

But here in East County, our residents must have assurances that we aren't closing one pollutor and opening another. Early in the process, we don't know much about the technology, or about the risk for noise and air pollution. More information will be needed in order for residents to make informed decisions on the siting of this project.

AESTHETIC IMPACT: Until working drawings are available, it will be diffiult to envision what this plant may look like. But it's a fair bet we can expect a couple stacks where the plant will vent steam, a bunch of seemingly endless pipes and lighting. We aren't talking about pretty architecture. So the question begs answering: Will Troutdale have an eyesore once this is built?

Folks from the Port of Portland say the design will take advantage of the nearby wetlands to screen the project. They also say it will be a 'smaller facility,' and it will blend in with FedEx and existing electric-transmission towers.

That's probably all true, but we'll reserve judgment until we see some drawings.

FINANCIAL BENEFITS: As a new arrival in the enterprise zone established at the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park, the project automatically qualifies for a reduction in property taxes.

And questions remain about whether this company will pursue savings through the Strategic Investment Program. When an eligible company locates within a Stratigic Investment Zone, it pays property taxes on the first $100 million of value of the improvements. The value above $100 million is abated. This partial property tax abatement lasts for 15 years.

What that means is this: It will take many years before this project is a full player in supporting local schools and governments. Are the 25-35 jobs enough the justify the long wait before this project's full tax potential is realized? With a price tag of $850 million or more, it probably is worth the wait.

But as a component of the planning for this project, we hope the developers are able to provide East County residents with a clear picture of how this project may contribute to this community both short term and long term.

Without those answers, East County residents won't know if they are hinging hope on empty promises or real potential.