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Hydroelectric Power FAQ

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Hydropower house with Dam 1 in background
Get answers to frequently asked questions regarding hydroelectric power in the Bull Run Watershed.
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How long have we been generating hydropower in the Bull Run Watershed?   

The Bull Run dams were constructed with the option to install hydropower, but the hydropower facilities were not built and licensed until the 1970s. This occurred during a time of concern about the reliability of the nation’s energy supply (referred to at the time as an “energy crisis”). The plants have now operated for more than 40 years.  

Who do we sell the power to?   

Power from the Portland Hydroelectric Project (PHP) facilities is sold to Portland General Electric and is fed into the regional power grid.  The amount of power generated varies, but the average generation is enough the meet the annual needs of about 10,000 households.  

How much money does the PHP generate? Does it make sense financially for the City continue to operate the power plants? 

Revenue from the hydropower facility varies over time – due to weather effects on water flow and supply and demand effects on power pricing in the regional energy market. Over its 41-year history, the PHP has generated sufficient revenues to cover all of its operational costs, pay off the City’s debt used to construct the facilities, and contribute $13 million in net proceeds to the City’s General Fund. The City has obtained estimates of the likely range of future revenue and has concluded that continued operation offers the likelihood of similar financial performance going forward and a much better financial return than decommissioning the project. The revenue analysis took into account future climate effects on the Bull Run River, future likely electricity rates, and anticipated expenses to continue operating the PHP. The City will have opportunities to further refine its cost-benefit analysis of continuing PHP operations during the five-year relicensing process and before it makes a final decision on whether or not to relicense.

Does the hydropower operation have effects on fish? What are you doing to protect fish?  

Close up of steelhead trout in water

Measures to protect fish from the effects of the water supply system—including dams and reservoirs—are defined in the 2009 Bull Run Water Supply Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). These measures include flow releases into the lower Bull Run River, water temperature management, spawning gravel supplementation, and a variety of other actions to protect and improve habitat for salmon and steelhead. The PHP operates in accordance with HCP requirements.