Idaho Public Utilities Commission will decide next week whether or not to grant
Idaho Power authority to pass along more than $220 million in Hells Canyon
Complex relicensing costs to its Idaho and Oregon customers.
Oct. 11 the Commission will hold a settlement hearing to determine if
$220,845,830 of Hells Canyon relicensing costs incurred through December 31,
2015 can be charged to ratepayers. According to Brad Bowlin, Idaho Power
communication specialist, the timing of the request aligns with the 26 years
the company has dedicated to relicensing and staff turnover.
process has been going on for so long a lot of our staff are at retirement age
and not going to be involved anymore. We thought it wise to go through with a
prudency review,” Bowlin said.
Jan. 4 Notice of Application said the Idaho Power staff began relicensing
efforts in 1991. The company filed its new license application with FERC in
2003, but a new long-term license has not been issued and Idaho Power has been
operating the Hells Canyon Complex under annual licenses since 2005.
Power estimates it will incur an additional $20 to $30 million annually to
obtain a new, long-term license. If FERC does not issue a new license until
2021, Idaho Power estimates relicensing costs to be between $350 and $400
a long list of environmental concerns two remain high – fish passage and methylmercury
concentrations found in fish downstream of the complex.
passage is a sticky wicket between the states bordering Hells Canyon.
Oregon feasibility study claims suitable, upstream habitat exists for
endangered steelhead and chinook salmon, but in 2016 Idaho Gov. Butch Otter
reiterated a conundrum in a letter addressed to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown; it
takes an act of the legislature to allow reintroduction of endangered species
into his state and Idaho lawmakers have not passed a law allowing steelhead and
salmon upstream of the complex in the Snake River.
for the Oregon and Idaho governors announced this summer they would come up
with a resolution by September, but no agreement has yet been brokered.
critical issue facing not only relicensing of Hells Canyon, but dams across the
nation, is the accumulation of mercury and it’s evil twin, methyl mercury,
created in oxygen-free environments at the bottom of very deep reservoirs. U.S.
Geological Survey scientists are studying Brownlee Reservoir, the lowest of the
three man-made lakes, not only to help Idaho Power comply with Idaho and Oregon
department of quality requirements but to create a model.
Baldwin of USGS said this past year’s epic winter and spring added a whole new
has been a really interesting year for us,” Baldwin said. “Up until now flows
have been low to medium, but 2017 gives us an interesting high water picture
and things are much different as far as concentrations of mercury coming into
said it takes several years to get the variability needed to understand the
whole picture of mercury’s effect on reservoirs and the downstream rivers.
scientists will spend a few more years collecting data and monitoring, Baldwin
said, as they further understand how mercury turns to methyl mercury and how it
gets into food web.
study and model may shine a light on how reservoirs might improve management to
minimize mercury – a problem across the West and around the world,” Baldwin
CBB, May 5, 2017, “Hells Canyon Fish Passage: Idaho, Oregon Governors' Letter
Sets Up Process To Resolve Differences” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438853.aspx
CBB, Feb. 10, 2017, “Idaho Power Caught Between Idaho, Oregon Laws Regarding
Fish Passage At Hells Canyon Complex” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438308.aspx
CBB, Dec. 16, 2016, “Oregon, Idaho Differ On Clean Water Act Interpretations
Regarding Snake River’s Hells Canyon Complex” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438093.aspx