Small hydro holds promise for Oregon
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Central Oregon will see two new federally funded hydropower projects.
Ten days. That's how long the new Juniper Plant – a hydropower generation plant about four miles north of Bend – ran in 2010. Built by the Central Oregon Irrigation District, the $24 million plant began generating power Oct. 4 after a yearlong construction. It shuts down Thursday, marking the end of the district's irrigation season and a new landmark in power generation for the agency.
For COID, 10 days of power generation were 10 days of promise. The district's new unassuming facility off Highway 97 is a symbol of gradual efforts to use hydropower to offset the rising cost of supplying water to farms.
"The benefit is that its renewable energy and the second is that it does create an additional line of revenue for the district that helps keep our assessment rates for the district — it doesn't eliminate them, but it keeps them lower," said Steve Johnson, district manager for COID.
Small-scale hydropower projects like this one represent a largely untapped energy source for the state — Energy Trust of Oregon is probing 30 possible projects at irrigation districts alone. Not only do they offset the cost of doing business, but they also enable irrigation districts to replace ditches with pipes, leaving more water in streams and meeting expanding environmental goals and regulations.
COID supplies water to 3,600 locations across 45,000 acres along the Deschutes River. The district operates with very little power – its irrigation channels are gravity fed. It first tried hydropower as a revenue-generating option with its Siphon Power Project near Bend’s Old Mill District in 1989. That 5-megawatt hydropower plant now brings in $300,000 to $400,000 in additional revenue annually, after debt service and operating costs.
The Juniper Plant will now do the same. The 5-megawatt plant was built with $10 million in support from grants and a state tax credit. As Juniper provides power to PacificPower, Johnson expects to see the plant add another $100,000 in revenues to COID's budget next year, a sum that will grow to $300,000 after five years of debt service.
It's among a handful of hydropower projects COID plans for the future.
Jed Jorgensen, senior energy project manager at Energy Trust, is charged with helping hydropower development along as such development helps Oregon utilities meet renewable energy goals. He said Energy Trust is promoting hydropower at existing dams or at storage and flood control facilities.
"A lot of folks feel that those are low-hanging fruit to develop capacity, if they can be done in ways that would improve fish passage or other natural resource issues" he said.
Energy Trust won't consider hydropower projects that add dams to Oregon rivers and streams, Jorgensen said. Irrigation districts, however, tend to be comprised of canals where water is either falling or can be piped to fall at a vertical distance, creating a force that can easily generate power on its way to customers. Permit requirements for irrigation districts do not allow the districts to draw water just to develop hydropower, limited production to water already flowing by.
Those limits haven't stopped hydropower from being a good resource for districts looking to recover costs.
At the Swalley Irrigation District, general manager Suzanne Butterfield expects hydropower production to garner between $160,000 and $190,000 annually. That district's .75 megawatt system came online in April. All but $2 million of its $14.5 million cost was paid for with grants from conservation and other agencies. The project, which converted a 5-mile canal to a 5-mile pipeline, restored about 18 million gallons of water daily to the Deschutes River, a permanent move that represents the single largest water contribution back to the river.
Jan Lee, executive director of the Northwest Hydropower Association, said hydropower has other benefits.
"Hydropower is generally stable, around the clock," she said. And environmental impacts are few when hydropower capacity is added to existing diversions. Other benefits include the added safety and security of decentralized power facilities, and the ability for local ownership and revenue generation. Hydropower facilities also have a long lifespan, from 50 to 100 years, "so if you install hydropower you know it's going to be there for a while," she said.
Lee said urban water districts can also develop hydropower facilities along pipelines. She points to Portland, which recently acquired a permit to add a hydropower plant to the Vernon Water Tower Park at Northeast 15th and Killingsworth Avenues.
Other possibilities include hydropower at reservoirs, and hydropower pump storage, which has the potential to serve as a backup for wind power.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.