The aging power plant on the Deschutes River in downtown Bend is a money-loser, a fish-killer and an eyesore, and the community would be better off if it were shut down, critics of a plan to relicense the facility said Wednesday.
However, PacifiCorp officials said the hydro facility that ushered the electric age into Bend eight decades ago can be revitalized and made to safely churn out electricity for decades to come.
“It is old and tired, but there is nothing to preclude it from operations for another 30 years,” said Randy Landolt, a member of PacifiCorp’s hydro division.
PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, is seeking a new 30-year federal license for the so-called Bend Project, the dam and power plant built by the now-defunct Bend Water, Light & Power Co. on the east bank of the Deschutes in 1910.
PacifiCorp officials held an all-day meeting in Bend Wednesday to gather comments of various local, state and federal agencies. The government leaders urged the utility to either retire the power plant or make major improvements in the facility.
Critics of the relicensing plan insisted that the utility take steps to reverse longstanding environmental problems, including damage to fish runs, problems created by ice buildup behind the dam and the sedimentation of Mirror Pond.
However, utility officials warned that the small hydroelectric project—which generates enough power to provide electricity to only about 400 homes—is not profitable enough to merit spending millions of dollars on fish screens and other improvements.
“This project cannot in and of itself support every improvement that people want to see,” Landolt said.
PacifiCorp officials sparred with Deschutes County Commissioner Tom Throop and other local government leaders over the question of whether the power plant is responsible for the heavy sediment buildup in Mirror Pond.
The sediment, which comes from eroding banks and other sources on the upper Deschutes River, is deposited in Mirror Pond when the river is slowed at the PacifiCorp dam.
“If the dam wasn’t there, and the power plant wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be a sedimentation problem in Mirror Pond,” Throop said.
“If the dam wasn’t there,” Landolt replied, “there wouldn’t be a Mirror Pond.”
PacifiCorp also was criticized for concluding that fish screens and other measures that would allow fish passage of the dam were simply too expensive to construct, given the limited production at the power plant.
A PacifiCorp study last year concluded that about 40,000 fish—including 1,200 to 1,400 rainbow trout—are swept into the powerhouse turbines each year.
However, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said the study occurred at the tail end of a four-year drought, when fish populations were at perhaps an all-time low. In fact, biologist Ted Fies said, the number of fish that enter the powerhouse could be more than 100,000 a year.
Rich Kruger, another ODFW biologist, noted that a major effort is under way to improve fisheries in the upper Deschutes, including the stretch of river in the urban area.
“There is a lot of money being poured into this region to improve things. This is of a major importance to us,” Krugar said. “The Department (of Fish and Wildlife) is not going to back down on this.”
Dennis Canty, a National Park Service analyst, noted that PacifiCorp admitted that in the future the Bend Project will cost more to operate than it will produce in revenues. He said the power plant should be retired and the turbines removed, allowing for fish passage.
“This is a fundamentally inefficient project,” Canty said. “I don’t think the public is well served by pursuing licensing for another 30 years. How can you justify this?”
Landolt said PacifiCorp wanted to relicense the powerhouse because it would cost the utility more to shut it down than to keep it operating. “The alternative is a major capital expenditure for retirement with absolutely no revenues to offset it,” he said.
PacifiCorp’s application for relicensing will be presented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late December. The agency, which must balance the need for power against the environmental costs of operating the plant, could take several years to issue a ruling on the matter.
The Bend Project’s current license expires in December 1993.
Source: The Bulletin ©1991