Late yesterday FERC issued a letter rejecting the Preliminary Permit Application for the McKenzie
River Hydro Project (FERC P-13099) by Principle Power Hydro (read letter). In
the letter FERC stated that the application "patently fails to conform to the Commission's
regulations" and went on to cite several deficiencies with the application. We are pleased
that FERC agrees with our assessment that this was an incredibly poorly thought out application
and provided stakeholders with no meaningful information on what was being proposed.
The applicant supplied a vague proposal stating they would build eight or nine projects with no additional details. We were all left scratching our heads as to what was actually going to be constructed on the river. Although the applicant claimed no dam or reservoirs would be built--just "weirs" and "head ponds"--it was hard to imagine squeezing 83 MW out of the river given that the current Waterville-Leaburg Project (FERC P-2496) on the McKenzie is only 23 MW and represents a fairly significant environmental footprint. Commission regulations require an applicant to submit a complete description of each project including characteristics of the dam, size of penstocks, powerhouse description, characteristics of reservoirs, description of transmission lines, and characteristics of generators but none of this information was provided. In addition applicants must provide a detailed map with all structures and not a vague circle sketched over a long stretch of the McKenzie River. The applicant also failed to provide names and addresses for interested entities affected by the proposal.
Despite claims by the applicant, our initial research has concluded that this project would not qualify as "renewable energy" and would not be eligible for associated incentives for development under Oregon State law. It also appears highly unlikely the project would qualify for certification under the Low Impact Hydropower Institute which does not encourage construction of new dams but rather focuses on improving operations at existing dams. In addition the Northwest Power Planning Council designated this section of the McKenzie River as a "Protected Area" in 1988 and BPA can not acquire hydropower from Protected Areas. Those who enjoy the McKenzie River for whitewater recreation, fishing, hiking, and other pursuits know that this river is a special place and one of the region's most treasured assets with a rich natural and cultural history. It's hard to imagine that a utility could find a market for power produced by new hydro development on this river but we will continue to track this project closely (explore a map of the reach of river considered for this proposal).