U.S. Hydro Facility Loses its ‘Low Impact’ Certification

One of the two hydroelectric facilities certified as ‘low impact’ by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute has been suspended.

PORTLAND, Oregon (US) 2002-02-04 [SolarAccess.com] The 4.8 MW Island Park hydro station on the Snake River in Idaho, 15 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, was certified last June as a low impact site by LIHI. It joined the Stagecoach dam and reservoir on the Yampa River in Colorado, as the only other hydro facility certified under the program. In November, the owner of the Island Park facility, Fall River Rural Electric Cooperative, noted that it was unable to maintain the release of water required under certification, due to drought conditions and decisions by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in managing the reservoir for water storage. The facility must release 146 cubic feet per second during winter months, but it has dropped to 80 cfs and Fall River does not expect to resume the required flows until April, after the reservoir has been filled with melted snow and runoff. The lower flows during winter may cause harm to rainbow trout and Trumpeter swans in the river, and the LIHI Board of Directors determined that the flow violation was “significant.” The violation is due in part to natural conditions, and not a result of an intentional decision to violate the standards for economic gain. The facility currently is not operating. The Board suspended certification, effective last September, rather than revoking it. It requires the co-op to notify its customers of the suspension, and to prohibit use of the certification in any marketing of power from the site while the certification is suspended. If the higher flow resumes in spring, the suspension would be dropped. When the application for the site was first received, it was posted on LIHI’s website for two months to allow public comments, but there were none. LIHI hired a reviewer to evaluate the facility, which concluded that it met the criteria to be labelled as ‘low impact.’ Although the electric co-op does not control the flow releases from the Island Park dam, minimum flows must be maintained in order to retain the Low Impact certification. LIHI certification is for a period of five years, pending acceptance of new requirement to provide an annual statement. Certification means that a hydroelectric facility meets criteria dealing with river flows, water quality, fish passage & protection, watershed protection, threatened & endangered species protection, cultural resource protection, recreation, and facilities recommended for removal. Certification is designed to provide consumers with assurance that a facility has lower impacts than other hydro facilities, based on objective environmental criteria. Certification “generally means the facility is well sited, well operated, and exceeds current legal requirements,” according to LIHI details. Certification may also qualify the power generation for other green energy certification programs, such as the Green-E Renewable Electricity Program or Renew 2000 in the Pacific Northwest, or utility green pricing programs such as the ‘Salmon Friendly Power’ program. Certification as Low Impact qualifies the power for a beneficial rating under the Power Scorecard electricity grading program. When the certification program was launched in 2000, there was one criteria standard for flows and a second for fish passage, which were to be in effect only for the first year of the program. The Governing Board recently decided to extend the alternative standards for applications in 2002 and 2003, allowing an applicant to demonstrate that river flows are adequate by obtaining a letter from a resource agency. Last November, the LIHI Board implemented changes to the certification program to address new hydropower generation on existing dams, with some other criteria amendments. Stagecoach dam was the first certified facility in March. That facility is owned and operated by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, and generates 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of energy a year. The Putnam hydro facility on the Quinebaug River in northeastern Connecticut is the third project to apply for Low Impact certification, and the first from New England. The project is a 575 kW run-of-river project located in the town of Putnam; the public comment period will close on March 4.
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