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Hydroelectric Project License is 5 Years Out

by Larry Meyer
The Argus Observer, February 11, 2015

Hells Canyon Dam on Idaho's Snake River is operating under a license that expired in 2005. ONTARIO -- Relicensing the Hells Canyon Complex's hydroelectric project is still another five years away.

That's the estimate from Idaho Power Co., which operates the project. Representatives from the company were the main speakers at the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District's annual meeting Tuesday at the Boulevard Grange.

Idaho Power has been working to relicense the project since the license expired in 2005. The original licenses were for 50 years.

The main regulatory agency is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the company has to work with about 250 agencies in the licensing process, said Chris Randolph, director of environmental affairs at Idaho Power.

"This has been a career," he said.

Randolph's current staff of about 80 people will increase to more than 100 employees with the addition of seasonal workers.

The company is focusing on two areas, Randolph said. In securing a water quality certificate, the company has to satisfy the standards of both Oregon and Idaho. Idaho Power also needs biological opinions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to information provided by Randolph, receiving the water quality certificate is one of the last major steps in obtaining a new license for the Hells Canyon Complex.

Hells Canyon Project's most upstream dam, Brownlee Dam, on Idaho's Snake River is operating under a license that expired in 2005.  Idaho Power is refusing to consider a temperature control intake device that could provide better temperatures for salmon downstream. Following Randolph, Ralph Myers, Idaho Power's water quality program supervisor, said one of the issues the company is dealing with is temperature fluctuations. There can be a period of up to two weeks when the water discharged by the Hells Canyon Dam exceeds the current Oregon Department of Environment Quality standard of 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit).

In 2012, Idaho approved a site-specific change to the state's fall Chinook spawning standard, raising it to 14.5 degrees Celsius for the first few weeks of the spawning period. The change was meant to protect fall Chinook spawning below Hells Canyon Dam, but it's a standard the Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon DEQ have yet to approve.

Despite the fact that temperature conditions below Hells Canyon Dam occasionally deviate from the applicable spawning standard, the fall Chinook population below the dam is healthy and has experienced sustained growth over the past 20 years, Myers said, indicating the growth on a graph.

However, to mitigate the temperature issues, Idaho Power is proposing programs in the upper Snake River. These include restoring or creating additional habitat, and tributary revegetation programs on the Powder, Burnt, Weiser and Malheur rivers to improve overall habitat and water quality.

One other component to the process is the price tag. Randolph said Idaho Power has spent at least $100 million to date. "Cost of relicensing is substantial," Randolph said.

Larry Meyer
Hydroelectric (Hells Canyon) Project License is 5 Years
The Argus Observer, February 11, 2015

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