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PacifiCorp to close plants on Link River

Published Jan. 18, 2004


PacifiCorp says it would rather shut down its century-old powerhouses on the Link River than build fish screens for them.

The two plants, one on each side of the river, generate four megawatts of electricity between them. That's less than 1 percent of the amount the Klamath Cogeneration Project produces.

A company official said the cost of fish screens at the plants outweighs the value of the power.

"It's like building an Olympic-size swimming pool behind a trailer," said Toby Freeman, PacifiCorp hydro licensing manager. "It just doesn't make a lot of sense."

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made it pretty clear that if we want to continue to use those projects, we will need to put fish screens on them," he said.

PacifiCorp is getting ready to apply for a new federal license for its dams and hydroelectric plants on the Klamath River. Its application will go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the end of February, and it will call for the decommissioning of the powerhouses, Freeman said.

PacifiCorp intends to apply for licenses to operate the rest of its power generating dams along the Klamath, including the Iron Gate Dam. There are five other generators, and the whole project produces 151 megawatts.

Giving up the powerhouses along the Link River stretch means the federal government may be looking for a new operator for the Link River Dam.

"As far as details of the Link River operation, we need to work them out," Freeman said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns the Link River Dam and PacifiCorp operates it. If PacifiCorp shuts down the powerhouses, the company and the Bureau will have to figure out who will operate the dam.

"We haven't had that conversation yet with the Bureau of Reclamation," Freeman said.

The dam could be operated by the Bureau, PacifiCorp or other groups, such as an irrigation district.

Fish screens would keep endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers from getting stuck in the diversion canals. The suckers were listed as endangered in 1988.

Although PacifiCorp hasn't studied the cost of adding screens, Freeman said it doesn't have to look far to get an idea. About a quarter mile upstream is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's A Canal diversion.

Last spring, the Bureau finished an update of the canal's headgates and installation of a high-tech fish screen. The project cost about $15 million.

Freeman said each powerhouse diversion pulls in about as much water as the A Canal, thus the cost of screening each would be about the same, for a total of $30 million.

The powerhouses were built around the turn of the 20th century by the California Oregon Power Company, or COPCO.

The powerhouses are controlled remotely, from Portland, so no jobs are at stake. The maintance workers who do the upkeep also work on the five other facilities in the Klamath hydroelectric project, PacifiCorp officials said.

The company would also have to figure out what to do with the popular Link River nature trail which runs the one-and-a-half-mile length of the Link River on PacifiCorp property, Freeman said. If it doesn't have the powerhouses, the company probably won't want the property.

The Klamath Falls City Parks and Recreation Department wants the trail.

Valerie Lantz, department director, said it would be an easy transition to patch the trail into the city's park system because it runs adjacent to Moore Park. She said PacifiCorp is supportive of the idea.

"They seem to be fairly positive on that," Lantz said. "But it is not a done deal. It's just something that is being talked about."

If the city took over the trail, it would probably remove the turnstiles at both ends and open it up to bicycles, Lantz said.

"It's actually a good transportation route for bicycles," she said.

Shutting down the powerhouses could avoid a legal roadblock for PacifiCorp.

In September, the Oregon Natural Resources Council filed a 60-day notice that it would sue the utility company if it didn't put fish screens on the diversions or shut down the facilities. After the 60 days passed, ONRC held back from filing suit to see what PacifiCorp would do in its FERC application.

Wendell Wood, Southern Oregon field director for the Resource Council, said the question is when will PacifiCorp decommission the powerhouses.

PacifiCorp Spokesman Jon Coney said decommissioning the powerhouses would be a long-term process.

Wood said most of the suckers that get trapped in the canals do so in late summer and early fall.

In September 2002, PacifiCorp and its business partner Cell Tech put out a report on sucker entrainment in the diversion that found, between March 1997 and October 1999, 109,429 suckers got stuck in the diversions. The fish were so decomposed researchers couldn't identify the species.

Wood said the ONRC will sue if PacifiCorp lags in the decommissioning of the powerhouses.

"It isn't that we aren't satisfied, it's just if someone says a problem is going to be solved, then we want to make sure that it is," he said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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