Idaho Irrigation District
by Laura Lundquist
An irrigation district on the upper Snake River wants its water to work a little harder, following in the footsteps of a Magic Valley canal company.
The Idaho Irrigation District has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit to research the possibility of building a small hydroelectric plant on one of its canals. The district's canals deliver Snake River water to more than 33,000 acres throughout Bingham and Jefferson counties near Idaho Falls. FERC is requesting comments until April 1.
If approved, the permit would give the district priority to file for a hydropower license. Should the district decide to do so, its proposal includes the construction of a powerhouse that would use canal water to produce more than 1 megawatt.
It would also raise 3 miles' worth of existing canal walls to allow them to carry almost twice the amount of water. Finally, it would construct a half-mile transmission line to connect to a Rocky Mountain Power distribution line.
The power plant would be run-of-the-river, meaning it would produce power using whatever flows the canal carried without using a reservoir. The water going through the power plant would return to the river 3 miles downstream.
The idea is not without precedent. The Twin Falls Canal Co. already feeds such a facility near Milner Dam with Snake River water, returning the water a few miles downstream. The facility itself is owned by Idaho Power.
Alan Kelsch, IID chairman, said his district has considered such a project for 20 years but has only now taken the next step.
"We've looked at the Twin Falls Canal Company's plant and reviewed our situation with consultants who said it looked good," Kelsch said. "Of course, current government incentives play into it too."
Kelsch said the feasibility study should take less than a year and he plans to get the license shortly thereafter. If all goes smoothly, he said it should be two to five years until the project is up and running. The district hasn't spoken with any power companies yet.
TFCC Manager Brian Olmstead said he knew of several irrigation groups that were looking at similar possibilities because of government incentives.
"Anyone who has the (river elevation) drop is looking at using it now because selling renewable energy credits can add 10 to 20 percent to your revenue," Olmstead said. "They're the main incentive because straight energy sales don't pay enough."
Olmstead cautioned newcomers that construction costs may take a bite out of any anticipated incentive. The process from feasibility study to project completion takes several years, and prices often increase beyond those used to calculate a budget, he said.
The Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, which diverts water out of Henry's Fork, also hopes to get in on the incentives. Dave Boyter, operations director at Symbiotics LLC, is overseeing construction of a 3.3 megawatt power plant scheduled to be built this summer. The electricity will belong to the Fall River Rural Electric Cooperative.
"Licensing started in 2001 but it took seven or eight years to work out the concerns about fish," Boyter said. "We agreed to put in fish screens so our 2001 estimate is not what we're building for now, but we should be OK."
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