The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is to invite public comment on Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) application for the relicensing of its 175MW Baker river hydro power project near Seattle, US.

The application is the result of four years’ collaboration between PSE, government bodies, tribal groups and environmental organisations, which encompassed a range of studies including the analysis of fish habitat conditions in the Skagit river basin, the area’s recreational needs and a cost-benefit analysis of the Baker river hydro scheme.

PSE and its partners in the relicensing process plan to submit a binding license agreement to FERC this summer for incorporation into the project license, while FERC is not expected to come to a final decision until 2006, when Baker river’s existing license comes to an end.

Proposals made in PSE’s application include:

• Investment of over US$131M for the improvement of upstream and downstream fish passage around two dams, the construction of a hatchery and additional spawning beach for sockeye salmon, and the installation of a new generator at Lower Baker dam,

• Provision of more habitat space for elk, grizzly bears, mountain goats, bald eagles, osprey and other wildlife,

• New recreational facilities, including hiking trails on US Forest Service land and new access for boats on Lake Shannon,

• Continuation of the vacant storage space behind the Upper Baker dam, amounting to over 91Mm3, provided during the winter for flood control.

If PSE is granted a new license, it will be able to continue operating the power plant for another 30 to 50 years.