FERC staff gives thumbs down to licensing of 10-MW hydro project in Idaho

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff, in a draft environmental impact statement issued on Sept. 30, is recommending against approval of a license for a 10-MW hydroelectric project in Idaho, at least in the project’s current form.

The draft EIS covers the proposed Bear River Narrows Project in Franklin County, Idaho. This draft EIS documents the view of governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, affected Indian tribes, the public, the license applicant, and FERC staff. It contains staff evaluations of the applicant’s proposal and the alternatives for licensing the Bear River Narrows Project. The draft EIS will be part of the record from which the commission will make its decision.

The Bear River Narrows Project would be located on the main stem of the Bear River in Franklin County, about nine miles northeast of the city of Preston, Idaho. It would occupy 243 acres of federal land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Twin Lakes Canal Co. proposes to construct a 109-foot-high dam that would form a 362-acre reservoir with a total storage capacity of 12,647 acre-feet of water.

The proposed powerhouse would have an installed capacity of 10 MW and would generate an average of 48,531 megawatt-hours of energy annually. The reservoir would also be used to provide up to 5,000 acre-feet of water to Twin Lakes’ irrigation system during dry years. To accomplish this, supplemental water would be released at the dam and pumped into the irrigation system at a new pumping station located downstream of the dam. 

Construction of the proposed project is expected to be complete approximately 3.5 years after issuance of a license. The initial filling of the reservoir would occur in the fall and winter and is expected to be completed within 5 to 6 months. The proposed project would provide a downstream minimum flow equal to the minimum flow requirement at PacifiCorp’s upstream Oneida development of 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) plus leakage from Oneida dam (estimated at 1 cfs) at all times, including during construction. Once the project is constructed, it would use unallocated water available in the Bear River during the period from October 1 to April 15 (outside of the irrigation season) to initially fill the reservoir to elevation 4,734 feet.

Said the draft EIS: “Based on a review of the anticipated environmental and economic effects of the proposed project and its alternatives, as well as the agency and public comments filed on this project, staff recommends no action (license denial) as the preferred alternative. The overall, unavoidable adverse environmental effects of both action alternatives would outweigh the power and water storage benefits of the project.

“There are four Commission-licensed hydroelectric facilities located on the Bear River in Idaho with a combined installed capacity of more than 78 MW. These hydroelectric facilities provide a number of substantial beneficial public uses including hydropower generation, water supply, flatwater recreation, and protection and enhancement of fish and terrestrial resources. In providing these benefits, the hydroelectric facilities together impound more than 30 miles of the 185-mile Idaho portion of the Bear River.

“The proposed Bear River Narrows Project would contribute an additional 10 MW of hydroelectric capacity to the region and up to 5,000 acre-feet of water storage to help stabilize the local irrigation water supply during those times when demand would otherwise exceed the supply, by in part, impounding an additional 4.5 miles of the Bear River in Idaho. This 4.5-mile reach supports a regionally significant riverine Bonneville cutthroat trout (BCT) recreational fishery, which is attractive due to its quality in terms of numbers and size of fish, its aesthetic setting in an undeveloped canyon, and its easy and open accessibility to the public. The reach also supports regionally significant whitewater kayaking, canoeing, and tubing opportunities for people with a wide range of boating skill levels; similar to the recreational fishery, these recreational activities are attractive because they are available in an aesthetic setting of an undeveloped canyon with easy and open accessibility. In total, the reach supports more than 55,559 recreation user days annually, drawing in about 9,500 anglers each year.

“Inundation of this reach would eliminate 4.5 miles of the remaining 11 miles of the Idaho portion of the Bear River accessible to the public for trout fishing and the last remaining whitewater boating opportunity within at least 120 miles of the project site. In addition, the proposed inundation zone currently provides habitat for 48 state-designated sensitive wildlife species. Outside of the proposed project area, these habitats are rare along the Bear River floodplain in the 80-mile reach between the Soda development (part of PacifiCorp’s Bear River Project) and Great Salt Lake, which is dominated by agriculture land use, such that the loss of this habitat could reduce the productivity of key wildlife populations. These losses would be an unavoidable and immitigable consequence of licensing the project.

“For these reasons, we conclude that any license issued for the proposed project could not be best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing the Bear River for all of its beneficial public uses, especially its substantial public recreation use at the proposed project site. We, therefore, recommend license denial.

“If the Commission decides to issue a license for the proposed Bear River Narrows Project, we make recommendations for environmental measures to be included in any license issued for the project.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.