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New Hydro Proposed for McKenzie River

Posted: 02/06/2008
by Thomas O'Keefe

Last month Principle Power Hydro based in San Francisco filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit to develop a series of 9 hydropower projects on the McKenzie River outside of Eugene, OR. These projects would be constructed on the reach that starts at river mile 75 at Scott Creek (just upstream of Paradise Campground) and ends just above Leaburg Dam at river mile 41 (download permit application).


What Would Be Constructed?

The applicant states that they will not build "dams with reservoirs" rather they will build "weirs with head ponds". They further state that these will be state of the art weirs with features to minimize effects on fish populations and recreational boating. We've heard similar claims for other projects currently under construction in British Columbia and they sure look like dams to us. The total size of these projects on the McKenzie would be 83 MW which would represent a fairly significant footprint. By way of comparison the hydro project on the White Salmon River is just over 10 MW.

Why Are These Projects Being Constructed?

In spelling out the justification for these projects the applicant notes that in 2007 the Oregon legislature passed a renewable energy portfolio standard into law that classified hydropower as a "renewable resource". AW expressed serious concerns with this legislation before it was enacted. We have observed what's happened in British Columbia with dozens of projects under construction following new incentives for hydropower development. Other utilities around the region are removing hydropower projects that provide marginal energy benefit relative to the impact on rivers, focusing on efficiency improvements to existing facilities, and diversifying energy portfolios to include non-hydro renewables.

But I Thought the McKenzie River was Wild and Scenic?

The upper reaches of the McKenzie River are protected as Wild and Scenic and are not open to future hydropower development. What many people do not know is that the Wild and Scenic boundary ends just upstream of Paradise Campground. The run from Finn Rock down to Prince Helfrich is one of the most popular river trips in the state but it's not protected as a Wild and Scenic River. This reach includes classic play spots like Clover, Neils and Redsides along with Marten Rapid.

Who's Paying for These Projects?

You are. In addition to traditional debt financing the applicant proposes the use of public/private partnerships through funding available through the Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon Business Tax Credits, BPA Conservation and Renewables Credit, and BPA Renewable Energy Facilitations Funds.

What Can I Do?

AW will closely follow this project as it progresses and identify opportunities for public comment. We don't yet have all the details but we believe our members will have serious concerns with the industrial development of this spectacular whitewater resource. We will alert you to opportunities to provide input on this project and anticipate that FERC will announce a formal public comment period on the preliminary permit application shortly. At any time a member of the public can write a letter to Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20426 (be sure to reference docket P-13099 in any correspondence). You can also communicate with your elected officials including members of the Oregon legislature. We suspect they did not intend to build hydropower projects on the McKenzie River as one of the first projects out of the gate to meet new renewable energy standards.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

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