Plans for hydroelectric project keep churning

December 30, 2016
Plans for hydroelectric project keep churning

Application processes continue for proposal at Wickiup Dam

By Hilary Corrigan

Longstanding plans to add a small hydroelectric project at Wickiup Dam are still around — but a little uncertain.

In 2011, Wickiup Hydro Group LLC — a subsidiary of Idaho firm Symbiotics LLC — sought a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build an approximately 7 megawatt facility at the Bureau of Reclamation dam outside of Bend. A megawatt equals 1 million watts, about enough electricity for 750 homes. Wickiup Dam and reservoir were built as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Deschutes Irrigation Project in 1949.

The irrigation project also includes Crane Prairie and Haystack reservoirs.

Wickiup Reservoir provides irrigation storage for North Unit Irrigation District.

The proposed “run-of-reservoir” hydroelectric project would operate when water flows fall within certain ranges, without changing reservoir operation, according to the application.

The project could cost about $18.4 million. Its electrical energy would be marketed to local electric utilities serving Central Oregon.

Among other facilities, plans call for a 50-by-50 foot powerhouse to hold the turbine generator units and control equipment — a connection to a nearby existing transmission line that extends to the Bonneville Power Administration’s existing Pringle Falls substation.

North Unit Irrigation District had agreed not to pursue its own project at the site and has an agreement with Wickiup Hydro Group to be paid about 5 percent of gross revenue from the project’s electricity sales each year. The money would help fund the district’s operating costs and support maintenance and conservation projects such as installing piping and lining in irrigation ditches and canals, according to Mike Britton, the district’s general manager.

Britton said he has heard “nothing at all” from the developer in at least a year.

“It’d be nice if they would either do something or get out of the way completely,” Britton said. “They’ve been pretty much an absentee partner for quite some time.”

According to materials filed at FERC, the firm now handling the application is Northwest Power Services Inc. That firm’s filings have a Wasilla, Alaska, post office box listing. But its president, Brent Smith, was also part of Symbiotics. Smith could not be reached for comment.

The proposed project appears to be continuing its application process at federal and state agencies.

Bridget Moran, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bend office, said that FERC has requested an Endangered Species Act consultation from her agency on the project — a signal to her that both FERC and the project proponent are serious about moving forward with the proposal. A main issue for her agency’s review involves the potential for an increased number of non-native fish species to get through the dam, posing a possible threat of greater predation farther downstream of the Oregon spotted frog, a protected animal. A recent settlement agreement reached in a separate legal proceeding on the frog has resulted in changes to flows, storage and release operations — prompting a need for the service to do a little more review of the hydroelectric proposal. The review by Moran’s agency will take place in the new year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service has set various conditions for the project, including studies and a monitoring plan meant to evaluate impacts to fish populations and how different fish species interact. Those conditions have prompted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to call for an updated application for a water quality certification that the project needs. The department expects to get that updated application soon, according to Chris Stine, a hydroelectric specialist at DEQ.

“At this point, we are asking for a revised application that accurately reflects the project,” Stine said, adding that he recently received a phone message from the applicant saying that it would be submitted.

The deadline is Jan. 12, then DEQ has a year to issue a decision either approving or denying the required certification.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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