EIS trims conditions, OKs MW boost for 170-MW Baker River

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued a final environmental impact statement Sept. 8 for relicensing the 170.03-MW Baker River hydroelectric project on Washington’s Baker River.

In a relicensing alternative endorsed by FERC staff, the EIS agrees to a proposed 30-MW capacity increase, to 200.03 MW, and eliminates some conditions contained in a settlement agreement between owner Puget Sound Energy and stakeholders.

The final EIS is part of the record from which FERC will decide whether to relicense the two-powerhouse project. Puget has been operating the project under temporary annual license since its original 50-year license (No. 2150) expired in April.

In the final EIS, FERC staff analyzed a status quo “no-action” alternative; the proposed alternative with modifications endorsed in the settlement agreement; and a FERC staff alternative.

The baseline no-action alternative anticipates average annual generation of 723,320 MWh, annual project costs of $8,985,900, and annual power benefits of $39,366,300, for net annual benefits of about $30,380,400.

The settlement’s proposed alternative would allow average annual generation of 722,019 MWh, annual project cost of $20,734,900, and annual power benefits of $37,440,400, for net annual benefits of $16,705,500. Puget previously estimated the settlement agreement would cost it about $360 million to meet proposed relicensing provisions.

FERC staff plan would boost annual benefit $500,000

The staff alternative would allow average annual generation of 722,019 MWh �- 1,301 MWh less than the no-action alternative but equivalent to the proposed action. Annual costs would be $20,235,000, with annual power benefits of $37,440,000, nearly the same amount as in the settlement agreement. The net annual benefit would be $17,205,200, nearly $500,000 per year more than the settlement proposed.

The 2004 settlement contained 50 proposed relicense articles adopted by Puget and other parties. The proposed articles covered protection, mitigation, and enhancement measures related to: geology and soils; water quantity and quality; aquatic resources; terrestrial resources; threatened and endangered species; cultural resources; recreation; aesthetics; and land uses.

FERC staff added its own recommendations to the final EIS, including a flow continuation study to determine the need for valves, other equipment, and operating procedures at Lower Baker Dam to maintain minimum flows during project outages. Staff also recommended procedures to keep resource agencies and tribes informed about the project and its fish protection measures.

The staff alternative deleted a number of measures proposed in the settlement agreement, including provisions for: a water safety plan; law enforcement; an aquatic riparian habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement plan; various contingency funds; and certain adaptive management.

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