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News / Northwest

Deal approves $216M for Idaho utility expenses

Company renewing 3-dam hydroelectric Snake River project

By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press
Published: April 19, 2018, 9:06pm

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho officials have approved an agreement allowing a utility company’s $216.5 million in relicensing expenses for a three-dam hydroelectric project on the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission issued the order last Friday that allows Boise-based Idaho Power to include the costs involving the Hells Canyon Complex in customer rates in the future. That rate increase would be preceded by a separate request from Idaho Power.

The company in December 2016 requested about $220 million to cover relicensing costs that started in 1991.

“We are pleased that we were able to reach an agreement,” said Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin.

He said the company does not currently have a rate increase request planned involving the relicensing.

The company’s 50-year license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expired in 2005, and it has been operating the dams under annual licenses renewed each August.

A significant hurdle to getting a longer license is that Oregon officials are refusing to agree to relicensing until salmon and steelhead can access four Oregon tributaries that feed into the Hells Canyon Complex, as required by Oregon law for the relicensing.

But Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving federally protected salmon and steelhead upstream of the dams, which biologists say is too environmentally degraded to support salmon.

Idaho Power in February petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review a 2017 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissing the utility’s request that it exempt the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex from the Oregon law requiring fish passage as part of relicensing.

That case has been put on hold while the two states and Idaho Power try to reach an agreement. Bowlin declined to comment on those negotiations.

Idaho Power supplies electricity to nearly 534,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. The Hells Canyon Complex in a normal water year produces about 30 percent of the company’s total annual power generation.

On a separate front, Idaho Power is proposing to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission a rate decrease of about 7 percent for residential customers.

That’s a result, Bowlin said, of a combination of a good water year that increased hydroelectricity and federal tax reform.