FERC Orders Fish Studies,by CBB Staff
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered the Idaho Power Company to complete 14 additional fish and wildlife studies to supplement its application to relicense the Hells Canyon Complex of dams.
In addition, FERC will enter into consultation on the project with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the dam's impacts on salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin.
FERC said it would meet with the two federal agencies in Boise, Sept. 9 to begin the talks and Idaho Power said it assumes it will be party to the consultation.
Conservationists said the decision by FERC on the studies and the reconsultation ends seven years of petitioning the federal agency, which among other responsibilities, oversees licensing of dams on public waters.
Idaho Rivers United and seven other groups petitioned FERC in 1997 to begin the consultation. However, FERC didn't make the decision until the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia told the agency in July that it had 45 days to respond.
Idaho Power's Dennis Lopez said the utility would better know what its course will be once the federal agencies meet in Boise. "They will shape the issue at that meeting," he said.
Idaho Power began studies to prepare its petition to license the three dams -- Hells Canyon, Brownlee and Oxbow dams -- over 10 years ago, Lopez said. The dams, which were licensed in 1955, provide nearly two-thirds of the utility's hydroelectric generating capacity. The current 50-year license (1955) expires July 21, 2005. The utility filed the final licensing petition with FERC in July 2003 and FERC asked the utility in December 2003 to conduct the 14 additional fish and wildlife studies on water quality, temperature and the effects of dam operations on salmon and steelhead. Idaho Power appealed the request, saying the studies were expensive and unneeded, but the appeal was denied by FERC June 29, 2004.
In addition, this week the Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Rivers United and American Rivers released the results of a study concluding that improvements at the Idaho Power dams would cost ratepayers less than $1 per month. Those improvements include construction of fish passage devices and a temperature control structure at Brownlee Dam that would give the dam the ability to release colder water from deep in the reservoir.
The economic study was conducted by GTBEconomics.
Installing fish passage and a structure to regulate water temperatures would "greatly enhance salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake River Basin," a Nez Perce Tribe press release said.
New fish passage structures would restore access to historic spawning habitat for fall chinook salmon and it would provide spring chinook and steelhead access to spawning habitat in the tributaries of the Snake River.
"The bottom line is that Idaho Power is in excellent financial health and can afford to pay for a fish passage system and a temperature control structure," said Anthony D. Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. "Idaho Power has made enormous profits by operating the Hells Canyon Complex on the Snake River, a publicly owned resource, and the time has come for the company to spend some of those profits on real solutions to problems they created."
Lopez said the company had just learned of the study and had not had time to review it, but that Idaho Power welcomed new ideas.
According to the Nez Perce report, the federal General Accountability Office found that Idaho Power produced anywhere from $219 million to $768 million worth of power at the Hells Canyon project alone, with a net return after taxes, capital costs, operations and maintenance of $123 million to $669 million per year from the Hells Canyon dams. That's for the period 1998 to 2003. "The cost of fish passage and temperature control devices would be a small fraction of this profit," says the Nez Perce release.
"Idaho Power gets free use of the Snake River, a publicly owned resource, to produce power," said Sara Eddie, attorney representing Idaho Rivers United. "Mitigating for the impacts of their dams is just one of the costs of doing business as a hydropower producer."
GTBEconomics found that the cost of fish passage for Idaho Power customers would be $.714 per month and that the cost of a temperature control device would increase bills by $.294 per month.
The GTBEconomics study is available at www.restorehellscanyon.org/economics.asp
Idaho Power: www.idahopower.com
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