FERC staff finds Priest Rapids relicense would protect resources

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has concluded a proposal to relicense and boost capacity of the 1,893-MW Priest Rapids project, coupled with measures recommended by staff, would protect and enhance resources and mitigate project effects.

FERC staff also determined protection, mitigation, and enhancement measures proposed for the Grant County Public Utility District project would improve survival of migrating salmon while providing a significant and dependable source of electricity. Priest Rapids (No. 2114), on the Columbia River in Washington, has operated under a temporary annual license since its original license expired in November 2005.

Proposal would increase 1,893-MW project by 225 MW

In its relicense application, Grant County PUD proposes adding more than 225 MW of capacity through turbine upgrades at the project’s Wanapum and Priest Rapids developments. The upgrades would increase total capacity by 225.2 MW, to 1,994 MW from 1,768.8 MW. The project currently has a total authorized capacity, as determined by FERC, of 1,893 MW and a dependable capacity of 1,647 MW.

A 507-page draft environmental impact statement issued by FERC Feb. 24 documents the views of FERC staff, the licensee, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Indian tribes, and the public.

One environmental measure identified in the document includes installation of permanent downstream fish passage facilities for juvenile salmon and steelhead at the project’s two dams. Additionally, Grant County PUD would develop and implement operating criteria to avoid operations that would result in poor survival of fish passing through turbines.

Turbines to be replaced with advanced design

The licensee also would install new advanced design turbines to improve fish survival. FERC amended Grant County’s original license in 2004, authorizing replacement of the 10 turbines at the Wanapum development with new, upgraded turbines over a period of about eight years. It initially approved the installation of only one prototype unit. In late 2005, FERC gave approval for the PUD to proceed with installation of new turbines for the nine remaining units.

Grant County also proposes to replace the 10 turbines at the Priest Rapids development beginning in 2017 and extending through 2023.

FERC is soliciting comments on the draft EIS. Comments are due within 60 days of publication to Magalie Salas, Secretary, FERC, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20426. After that date, FERC staff will prepare a final environmental impact statement, including staff recommendations, which commissioners will consider when the commission acts on the relicense application.

Several days prior to the draft EIS going to print, Grant County PUD filed with FERC an offer of settlement signed by itself, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. FERC said the agreement resolves a number of issues between the parties involving salmon and steelhead. FERC plans to incorporate its review and analysis of the agreement in the final EIS and make its decision on the agreement in the relicense order.

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