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Major Projects

A major hydroelectric project is 100 theoretical horsepower or more in capacity and is eligible for a major hydroelectric license under ORS 543. A major license may be issued for up to 50 years. 

Theoretical horsepower (THP) is calculated by the water flow through the turbines in cubic feet per second multiplied by the head in feet (difference in elevation from the place where the water is diverted to the elevation at which it is released from the turbine) and divided by 8.8. (Water flow cfs * Head ft / 8.8) = THP.  

Many major projects are also subject to the licensing requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Oregon licensing process is coordinated with the FERC process to the extent possible and many of the application documents and environmental reviews may be used for both processes. 

Environmental Review Criteria

ORS 543.017 prohibits any hydroelectric development that may result in mortality or injury to anadromous salmon and steelhead resources or loss of natural habitat of any anadromous salmon and steelhead resources.  All hydroelectric development must be consistent with the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program adopted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  There must not be potential impacts that would result in a net loss of wild game fish or recreational opportunities.  Protected areas for anadromous fish are shown on these maps. Other natural resources in the project vicinity including water quality, wildlife, scenic and aesthetic values, and historic, cultural and archaeological sites shall be maintained or enhanced.
  • A major hydroelectric project begins with a preliminary permit application to reserve a priority date and location while a developer takes up to three years to study the impacts of a proposed project and develop a set of mitigation measures to reduce project impacts on natural resources.  WRD conducts a public meeting in the basin where a project is proposed before issuing a preliminary permit. If the project is within a “protected area” of the Northwest Power Conservation Council for anadromous fish species the application cannot be approved.
  • Applicant consults with WRD, ODFW and DEQ and other natural resource agencies on potential project impacts and possible mitigation strategies.  The applicant conducts studies to document existing conditions and to determine potential project impacts and possible mitigation strategies.
  • After initial studies are completed the developer submits a Draft License Application that natural resource agencies review and provide comments to the developer and/or FERC and the State agencies.
  • The applicant prepares a Final License Application that is submitted for final review.  Usually this document requires an Environmental Impact Statement, a water quality review under the federal Clean Water Act and one or more biological opinions from federal resource agencies.  Once all the environmental agencies have completed their review the WRD hydroelectric program prepares a proposed order to approve or reject the project. 
  • If the project is in an area that has been withdrawn by the Oregon Water Resources Commission, then a basin program exception may be requested under ORS 536.295 ($575).
  • The Final License Application is placed on the Department’s Weekly Public Notice beginning a 60-day comment period.  WRD notifies other natural resource agencies and property owners within 300 feet of proposed powerhouse about the application and asks for specific comments on the project impacts.
  • Site visit is scheduled with ODFW and DEQ if one was not conducted for the preliminary permit.
  • A Proposed Final Order determines whether the proposed Project together with the recommended measures to protect, mitigate or enhance the natural resources of the State is consistent with the minimum standards of ORS 543.017, and the requirements of OAR 690-051-0160 through 690-051-0290 and whether the Project would impair or be detrimental to the public interest as provided in ORS 543.225.  The proposed final order shall also provide findings on whether the proposed project may contribute to cumulative impacts with other existing, proposed or approved hydroelectric projects in the same river basin and whether consolidated review is required under ORS 543.255 and OAR 690-051-0290.  The Department’s Weekly Public Notice​ begins a 60-day protest period.
  • If no protest is received, a Final Order is issued.  The license includes reference to an annual fee, bypass flow requirements and other license conditions as appropriate.
  • If a protest is received, the case is referred to the Administrative Hearings Office.   WRD will be represented by the Attorney General’s Office.
  • Once all appeals of a proposed order are resolved, the Department issues a final order.  After dam safety reviews are complete, the project may be constructed.  The process usually requires from two to ten years.