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Hydro relicensing sought

Brad Emery, a hydropower plant operator with PacificCorp, places a protective cover over the generator at the West Side power house on the Link River Tuesday afternoon. The company plans to eventually shut down two powerhouses on the Link River.
Published Feb. 25, 2004

PacifiCorp wants to keep most Klamath River units operating


PacifiCorp seeks to continue operating most of its Klamath River hydropower project as is under the terms of a relicensing application being filed this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The company proposes spending about $10 million to improve fish protection at the J.C. Boyle Dam west of Keno, but has no plans to establish passage for salmon around three other dams on the Klamath River.

The 7,000-page application package mailed to FERC this week also proposes shutting down small and aging powerhouses on the Link River, rather than install costly screens to prevent fish from being trapped in the canals leading to them.

The application, which took about four years to produce, also calls for taking two of the project's six dams out from under federal regulation, said Toby Freeman, hydro licensing manager for the company.

But no dams will be taken out of the river.

PacifiCorp's existing license, issued in 1956, expires in 2006. The company was required to file its relicensing application two years before the existing license expires.

Freeman said the application includes the decommissioning, or closing, of the East Side and West Side powerhouses on opposite sides of the Link River. The powerhouses' low power output, about 3.8 megawatts, and the high cost of installing fish screens required by the federal government make them uneconomical.

"Those are small power plants and they can't support the costs," he said.

Putting fish screens on the diversions would cost millions of dollars, he said. The company will opt to seal off the diversions and obliterate the canals and flumes.

But PacifiCorp doesn't plan to demolish the powerhouses. Freeman said historical groups might be interested in the two buildings.

"My guess is the powerhouses might have historical value," he said.

PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will then have to figure out who will operate the Link River Dam.

Reclamation owns the dam built in 1920-21, but PacifiCorp holds a contract to operate it under the Bureau's direction. Irrigators rely on the dam for water supplies, and the dam regulates the level of Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered suckers.

The Link River Dam will stay in place, but if PacifiCorp isn't using it for power diversion, then it will have no reason to be involved in its operation, Freeman said.

PacifiCorp also proposes to have Keno Dam, which regulates the level of Lake Ewauna, excluded from the license. Under the current license, Keno Dam is considered part of the project, but Freeman said it doesn't produce any power.

He said PacifiCorp would continue to own the dam and operate it.

While drafting the application, the company had hundreds of meetings with federal, state and local governments, as well as people from agriculture, upstream and downstream tribes, environmental organizations and communities along the river.

Some of those groups were unhappy to hear Tuesday about some things that weren't included in the application, mainly the removal of dams and improvement of fish passage.

Glen Spain, spokesman for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said PacifiCorp hasn't done all of its homework by not addressing dam removal or salmon passage.

"Clearly, if those two issues are not dealt with, then the application is deficient," he said.

Last fall, a panel of scientists with the National Research Council recommended the study of removing the 188-foot-high Iron Gate Dam, the tallest dam in the hydroelectric project and a roadblock to salmon that once swam annually up into Upper Klamath Lake and beyond. Spain said he didn't understand why PacifiCorp didn't consider the study in its application.

He said the Klamath project is only a small part of PacifiCorp's power holdings.

"These are not particularly valuable dams, nor are they very important to PacifiCorp's power project," Spain said.

But they do a lot of damage to the river, he added.

The company has other hydro projects, solar and wind projects and gas and coal plants in Utah, Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho and California. Those projects combine to produce 8,300 megawatts with 1,100 megawatts coming from hydro projects.

Freeman said the 151-megawatt Klamath hydroelectric project may be small, but it is valuable. The project produces "peaking power," or electricity that can be generated when customers demand it the most, meaning the company gets more money for the power.

"We can release water at a moment's notice," he said.

PacifiCorp considered installation of ladders and screens at each dam, but decided against making any changes in most cases, Freeman said.

Allen Foreman, chairman for the Klamath Tribes, said the Tribes want to see salmon back in the upper Basin.

"We are disappointed, and we would like to see salmon reintroduced to our area," he said. "It is something we lost over 80 years ago."

Foreman said having salmon back in the area would help not just the Tribes, but the overall economy of the community because there would be a fishing industry.

PacifiCorp's application doesn't call for improved fish passage aside from a new fish ladder at the J.C. Boyle power dam. The project will cost about $10 million, and would mostly benefit native trout, Freeman said.

If salmon were reintroduced to the Basin, the best way to do so would be to "trap and haul," or catch the fish and then move them in trucks, he said. Improving fish passage with new ladders and screens at the four dams in the application would cost an estimated $100 million.

Freeman said FERC should receive the application by Friday. The application will be subject to a public comment period.

If FERC doesn't issue a new license by the time the existing license expires, it will continue the old license annually until a new license is approved, Freeman said.

He said the application will be available on the company's Web site, and copies should also be in public libraries throughout the Basin, by the end of next week.

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