By JOHN O'CONNELL
The U.S. Senate has approved legislation extending the license for a group of southern Idaho irrigators to build a hydroelectric project using American Falls Reservoir storage water diverted downstream of the dam through their canal system.
The Big Wood Canal Co. and American Falls Reservoir District No. 2 plan to divert water from their 993 lateral canal, located northwest of Shoshone, into a turbine before returning it a half mile downstream into the North Gooding main canal.
Lynn Harmon, general manager of the canal company and reservoir district, said the project's cost was last estimated at about $1.7 million, and it would generate roughly a megawatt of power. The Senate Bill, S. 276, introduced by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and approved by unanimous consent, extends the project license that expired in 2007 by three years from the date that the extension is signed into law by the president. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is taking the lead on getting the bill passed in the House, where it didn't receive a vote last year after passing the Senate due to its attachment to a more controversial bill.
Harmon said the House bill will include only similar hydroelectric projects and shouldn't meet resistance. He hopes to have the project online by 2015 or 2016. He said his company had considered the project in the past, but it didn't pencil out. Current power rates make it feasible, he said. His irrigators already own three projects outright and are partners in additional power facilities on Magic Reservoir and the Milner-Gooding Canal, using revenue to defray their operational costs.
He said several other potential sites for power generation have been identified, but they're located in remote areas, and upgrading infrastructure to reach them would be cost prohibitive.
Brian Patton, chief of the Idaho Department of Water Resource's planning division, said Idaho canal power projects began taking off in the 1980s due to rising energy prices. They're common throughout some Idaho canal systems in locations where elevation drops by 20 to 30 feet, he said.
Kail Sheppard, manager of New Sweden Irrigation District, said his company is conducting environmental studies on a 1.3-megawatt hydropower facility planned near the head of its canal system, about 8 miles north of Idaho Falls. The facility would operate year-round, utilizing excess capacity in the canal system, and water would flow through the turbine back into the Snake River. Sheppard hopes to start construction in 2015.
"We have no other way to generate revenue other than raising taxes," Sheppard said. "The costs keep going up, but the income out on the farm doesn't seem to."