Future Still Uncertain As Childs-Irving Plants Approach 90th Birthday

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Relicensing efforts continue for the Childs-Irving Hydroelectric Project west of Strawberry, and $77,000 a year in property taxes may be in jeopardy.

APS officials have been meeting with environmental groups trying to get an idea of how to clear the way for a 30-year renewal of the company's license to operate the two small but historic hydroelectric plants along Fossil Creek.

Getting the relicensing out of the way could be a 90th anniversary present for the APS-owned project, the only such system in the state, but it's not likely to happen in time for the big event.

APS celebrates the anniversary of the completion of the $500,000 turn-of-the-century engineering feat on Friday, June 18.

According to John Denman, APS vice president of fossil generation, the relicensing effort has been going on for years.

In fact, it's been nearly eight years since APS first applied for its license renewal, a process that all dams go through.

"Right now, (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) may come out tomorrow and say it's relicensed or not," Denman said Friday. "If you'd asked me in mid-1998, we would have thought by this time we'd have an answer."

He said that the permit process could include a commitment from APS to return 10 cubic feet per second of water to Fossil Creek, from which it now diverts water to generate electricity.

"We've been filling out applications," Denman said. "Game and Fish asked for studies on different species.

"We've done five or six specific studies and hired techno-experts to evaluate the impact."

If the relicensing effort fails, the Childs-Irving Project would be the second hydropowered dam in the nation to be shut down.

But for now, the project that once supplied power to all of Yavapai County and most of Phoenix continues to produce 4.2 megawatts of electricity an hour, 24 hours a day.

It is now only a small part of the APS system around the state, but if the plant were to shut down, the company would have to replace the lost power with additional fossil-generated plants.

The area would revert to its natural state, and eight people now working at the plant who receive an annual payroll of $400,000 would go elsewhere.

The continued presence at Childs-Irving of a number of non-native and native species also hangs in the balance.

"The things that live there today probably wouldn't survive a change," Denman said.

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