Dec. 04--Amid all the talk about the riverfront in downtown Fergus Falls, there is speculation about the future of the dams, too, considering the federal government is in the middle of relicensing them.
Otter Tail Power Co. plans to keep its five dams on the Otter Tail River in place.
In June, the company filed its pre-application document with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposing to relicense the hydropower sources with no changes to existing facilities or operations, said spokeswoman Sarah Casey.
"Relicensing the hydroelectric plants in their current condition is the least-cost option for our customers," she said.
FERC issued Otter Tail Power Co. the license for hydroelectric power on five dams in 1991. The present license expires on Nov. 30, 2021, and the company will need its relicensing application filed by Nov. 30, 2019.
The five dams are Dayton Hollow, Hoot Lake, Pisgah, Taplin Gorge (Friberg) and Wright (Central). Together, they produce about 3.5 megawatts of power.
Erik Anthonisen, the Fergus Falls-based acquisition and development specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Trails, sent comments to FERC on the relicensing. He said the dams are aging, with the newest built around 1925. He said though the reservoirs provide recreation, they are filling with sediment.
"The Pisgah Dam reservoir filled in 100 to 160 feet in a four-year period between 2009 and 2013," he said.
Dams in general create barriers for fish, mussels and other specials. The DNR, he said, would like to pursue fish passages around the dams on the Otter Tail River.
The Otter Tail River is a 157-mile state water trail, he noted.
"Otter Tail Power has been an excellent partner with regards to the trail and has allowed portages around the dams and even helped create river access sites as part of the last licensing process in 1991," Anthonisen said.
The river drops about 500 feet over the course of the state water trail, he said. About 80 feet of that drop is in six miles in the vicinity of Fergus Falls. There is a total of 262 feet of drop over the 32 miles from the first Otter Tail Power dam to the last.
"There is the distinct possibility that there could be whitewater paddling in the Fergus Falls area if one or more dams were removed," Anthonisen told the agency.
The next opportunity for input on the relicensing comes on Dec. 13 at a meeting to student the public plan. It takes place at 10 a.m. at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. People then have until Feb. 13 to provide further comments. The results will be public in April.
Input on Otter Tail Power's pre-application document was due Oct. 1, following meetings held at the Bigwood Event Center in August and a public open house last April.
Through the process, FERC will consider the public good and the regulations of the National Environmental Policy ACT, which means looking at the value of the energy, recreational benefits, environmental impacts and other matters in forming a recommendation.
Casey said the company is early in a five-year process to relicense the dams. The company has a website dedicated to the relicensing process. It is at otpco.com/hydro.
Fergus Falls-based Otter Tail Power Co. has a service area of 70,000 square miles, serving 131,200 customers in 422 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. According to the company, about 57 percent of its power comes from coal, 22 percent is purchased, 19 percent from wind, 1 percent from hydro and 1 percent from gas and oil.
The 5 dams
Taplin Gorge (Frigberg)
Capacity: 560 kilowatts
Age: online since 1925
Reservoir elevation: 1,299 ft.
Capacity: 670 kilowatts
Age: online since 1914
Reservoir elevation: 1,256 ft.
Capacity: 400 kilowatts
Age: online since 1922
Reservoir elevation: 1,181 ft
Capacity: 650 kilowatts
Age: online since 1918
Reservoir elevation: 1,156 ft.
Capacity: 970 kilowatts
Age: online since 1909
Reservoir elevation: 1,107 ft.
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