Federal commission issues license to retrofit dam for electricity generation
By Mark Freeman
Water flowing out of Applegate Dam could begin generating electricity in as early as four years under a new federal hydropower license issued Thursday to a Utah-based utility that is retrofitting small dams for electricity throughout the Northwest.
After seven years of studies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officially issued its license to Symbiotics for attaching a 10 megawatt generating facility to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam on the Applegate River.
Construction could begin in 2011 on the estimated $19 million project, which was certified by the FERC as low-impact and includes plans to reintroduce winter steelhead upstream of Applegate Lake.
About 14 months worth of work remains on the final engineering as well as finishing an operational agreement with the Corps, Symbiotics officials said Thursday.
“The earliest this project could be on line is late 2013,” said Erik Steimle, Symbiotics’ director of environmental compliance in Portland.
Plans include adding two turbines to the spillway and about a mile of new electrical lines from the dam’s base to existing power lines along Applegate Road near the last river bridge downstream of the dam, Steimle said.
Plans call for Symbiotic to pay PacifiCorp to upgrade the existing power lines from there to a substation in Ruch so the lines can handle the extra electricity, Steimle said.
The upgraded lines would be similar to those running along Highway 238 between Jacksonville and Ruch, he said.
A megawatt is roughly enough electricity to operate 1,000 homes or small businesses simultaneously. A similar facility at Lost Creek dam generates up to 49 megawatts of power.
The project includes money to reintroduce winter steelhead to about 35 miles of spawning tributaries upstream of Applegate Lake that were lost to native steelhead when the dam was built in 1980.
“It’s a good chunk of pretty high-quality (fish) habitat,” said Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Rogue District fish biologist. “There’s a world of opportunity up there.”
Plans are to trap upstream adults at the current fish trap at the dam’s base, then truck them upstream for release. Their progeny would swim downstream and through the dam while protected from the turbines by a $4 million series of screens and funnels.
Previous studies show that juvenile steelhead planted upstream of the dam successfully swam through the structure, went down the Rogue River to the sea and returned as adults captured in the Rogue near Gold Beach, VanDyke said.
The Applegate license is the last of four licenses to come out of a spate of dozens of dams throughout the West that Symbiotics has studied since 2001 for possible retrofits.
The FERC already issued a license for a retrofit to Dorena Dam in Lane County. The final engineering on that project almost is completed, Steimle said.
The company also is about halfway through construction of the retrofit to the Chester Diversion Dam in eastern Idaho, Steimle said.
The FERC four months ago issued a license to retrofit the Clark Canyon Dam owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation in western Montana.
“Applegate is the end of our first suite of projects,” Steimle said.
The firm next year plans to file license applications for three new dam retrofits — two in Oregon and one in Utah, Steimle said. The Oregon projects would be on the Corps’ Fall Creek Dam in Lane County and the bureau-owned Wickiup Dam near Bend, he said.