FERC EIS backs relicensing five developments on Spokane River

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued an environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of five hydroelectric developments, totaling 137.65 MW, on the Spokane River in Washington and Idaho.

The EIS recommends relicensing the four-plant, 122.9-MW Spokane River project (No. 2545) and the 14.75-MW Post Falls project (No. 12606) as proposed by licensee Avista Utilities, with FERC staff modifications. The staff recommendations include enhancements involving erosion and sediment control, improved water quality and quantity, improvement to anadromous and resident fish habitat, and recreation facility upgrades.

In filing to relicense the Spokane River project, Avista split off Post Falls from the other Spokane River developments, saying Post Falls presents issues that might take longer to resolve than the rest of the Spokane River project.

The remainder of the Spokane River project, whose license expired in July, includes the 10-MW Upper Falls, 14.82-MW Monroe Street, 26.34-MW Nine Mile, and 70-MW Long Lake developments, on the border of Idaho and Washington. (HNN 1/12/07)

FERC staff evaluated relicensing alternatives including: Avista’s proposal; Avista’s proposal plus staff recommendations; and, for Post Falls, the addition of mandatory relicensing conditions to be imposed by the Department of Interior. While FERC is not allowed to modify or reject the mandatory conditions, the opinion of its EIS recommended relicensing Post Falls without the mandatory conditions.

Post Falls found uneconomic in all alternatives

The EIS economic analysis of the alternatives found Post Falls to be uneconomic to continue operating under all three alternatives. However, FERC generally allows a licensee to make its own business decision whether to continue operating a project that appears to be uneconomic by FERC’s analysis.

All three alternatives call for Post Falls to generate 77,262 MWh annually. Avista’s proposal would have an annual cost of $6.8 million for a negative annual benefit — a loss — of $3 million. FERC’s staff recommendation actually would reduce the annual cost to $5.8 million for a loss of only $1.98 million. Including Interior’s mandatory conditions would boost the annual cost back up to $7.5 million for an annual loss of $3.68 million.

The Spokane River project would generate 795,903 MWh per year, for an annual cost under Avista’s proposal of $21.2 million and an annual net benefit of $18.5 million. The staff recommendation would reduce the annual cost to $20.6 million for an annual net benefit $19.1 million. Because there are no federal lands within the Spokane River project, there is no federal agency with mandatory conditioning authority over that project.

In January, an Interior Department administrative law judge resolved disputed issues of material fact, moving the agency closer to establishing final mandatory conditions for relicensing Post Falls. At that time, Avista said it was encouraged by a number of findings in its favor.

Avista had estimated the cost of proposed mandatory and recommended conditions, plus Avista’s own mitigation and enhancement proposals, would cost up to $500 million over the life of a 50-year license.

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