Pacific Power will be given an extra year to operate a hydroelectric dam on the Deschutes River while it negotiates with federal agencies over the terms of renewing the project’s license.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission confirmed Wednesday that it will issue a one-year extension on Pacific Power’s operating license for the 80-year-old Bend Hydroelectric Project. The dam and powerhouse impound Mirror Pond in downtown Bend.
The dam’s license, which was due to expire at the end of 1993, will be valid through Dec. 31.
Extending the life of the dam hinges on approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has insisted that PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power, install turbine screens and a fish ladder at the dam.
The modifications would save fish swimming downstream from getting chopped up in the turbines and would allow fish to migrate upstream past the dam, in turn helping restore rainbow, brown and bull trout in the river, say state and federal biologists.
PacifiCorp argues it would be cheaper to shut down the 1.1 megawatt power plant—at a cost of $1.7 million—than pay an estimated $2.7 million to add the screens and ladder. Although federal energy officials agree with the utility, the Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to demand the changes as a provision of relicensing the project.
Officials from PacifiCorp, both federal agencies and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife met to discuss other options in early December but failed to reach an agreement.
“Both sides are still trying to come up with additional ideas” for enhancing fish populations while keeping the hydro project operating, said Marv Yoshinaka, an Oregon biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Meanwhile, FERC has given all parties until Jan. 15 to submit formal comments on its review of PacifiCorp’s license renewal application. The review, a draft environmental assessment released last August, recommends a new 50-year license for the dam and powerhouse. It does not require fish screens and suggests a ladder would not need to be built for at least another 10 years.
FERC will evaluate all comments before issuing its final decision on the application, said Surender Yepuri, the agency’s project manager for the Bend dam.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen after that,” Yepuri said. “In this case, it’s a very controversial project.”
The hydro project’s electrical production serves about 500 homes and represents about 1 percent of Bend’s power demand. Pacific Power officials maintain that the regional power grid can absorb the loss of the electrical supply that would result from retiring the Deschutes River project.
Source: The Bulletin ©1994