The City of Bonners Ferry is one of only 10 cities in Idaho that operates its own electric system, and one of the few that generates its own power. The city operates a hydroelectric project on the Moyie River, which currently provides about 30 percent of our power needs. Since its completion in 1950, the dam has provided reliable and cost effective power for the city’s electric users. The remainder of our power needs are purchased from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal power marketing agency that is part of the US Department of Energy.
The combination of generating a portion of our power needs and purchasing the remainder from BPA has allowed us to offer some of the lowest power prices in the nation, and the city has not had an electric rate increase for residential users for 10 years.
The dam and associated generating equipment require regular maintenance and upgrades, and the city has been diligent about maintaining the facilities. Within the last 15 years, the city has rebuilt all four of the generators and turbines, and upgraded the powerhouse control systems to provide better reliability. A rebuild of the substation that serves the hydro project was completed in 2016, and the city finished a major dredging project this summer, removing decades of silt and debris buildup from behind the dam.
The concrete surfaces of the dam require periodic repair due to weather-related damage and erosion caused by flowing water. The dam is now 71 years old and the concrete on the face of the dam requires major reconstruction. The city has been working with an engineering firm on the required repairs, along with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is responsible for licensing and inspecting public and private hydroelectric projects throughout the United States. The needed repairs will include removing several inches of concrete using high pressure water jets, installing metal anchors to bond the new concrete with the existing structure, and pouring new concrete that will match the original spillway surface contour. It is a major project that will take two or three seasons to complete, with an estimated cost of $3.7 million. We are hoping to start the project in 2020 or 2021.
The City is starting to look at different methods to fund the needed repairs. One way is to fund the project using reserve funds and raising rates to pay the balance, requiring significant rate increases. Another option is to borrow money for the project, and pay back the balance over 20 years, resulting in much smaller rate increases. Additionally, borrowing money would require a vote of our citizens to approve the debt.
The City Council will be holding meetings to inform the public about the project, and take input on the different options for funding the repairs. The first meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, at City Hall, where a firm that the city has hired to perform a rate study will present their findings. Their presentation will also be available on the city website for those who cannot attend. Future meetings will be noticed through the city’s normal media outlets.
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David Sims is the mayor of Bonners Ferry.