Irrigators propose giant hydroelectric project

EPHRATA The three irrigation districts that channel Columbia River water to irrigators in the Columbia Basin have become the second organization since August to propose a new hydroelectric project that wouldn’t require a new dam. But this one’s a biggie.

The irrigation districts’ proposed $1 billion, 500 megawatt “Banks Lake Pumped Storage” project near Grand Coulee Dam would use the existing reservoirs of Banks Lake and Lake Roosevelt to generate electricity. The group is seeking investors and federal funding.

“This is a valuable resource that can provide a lot of flexible capacity that the region is going to need,” said Columbia Basin Hydropower Manager Secretary Tim Culbertson.

Culbertson is former general manager of the Grant County PUD. His current employer manages the five Columbia Basin Project power generators that are in or supplied by the districts’ irrigation canals. The power they generate feeds Seattle and Tacoma.

The project would be built on the west side of Lake Roosevelt, just upstream of Grand Coulee Dam at Crescent Bay.

When electricity is plentiful and cheap, usually at night when demand is low, the project’s pumps would cheap jerseys transfer Columbia River water via large pipelines from Lake Roosevelt up some 300 feet in elevation to nearby Banks Lake, the main storage reservoir that supplies Columbia Basin Project irrigation water.

When power demand is high or when more generation is otherwise needed, the project would allow the stored water to flow back down through the pipelines into Lake Roosevelt, past two, 250 megawatt adjustable speed generating units to make electricity.

The project as envisioned could generate 500 megawatts for up to 70 continuous hours, Culbertson said. While the stored water lasts, that’s nearly as much electricity as Rock Island Dam can generate with a full river and all units running.

But unlike a run of the river dam like Rock Island, when a pumped storage project’s stored water runs out, it must expend a lot of electricity to pump more river water back up to its storage reservoir.

That pumping cost, together with construction costs and insufficient projected revenues from power sales, has made these projects unfeasible for North Central Washington over the decades.

Yet, this is the second pumped storage project proposed since August.

The first, by Shell Energy, is a small project designed to be expanded, as needed, over time. The 5 megawatt project would draw from the reservoir behind Chief Joseph Dam, near Bridgeport.

Why the sudden push for pumped storage? Renewable energy, experts say.

The western states, led by California with its huge demand for power and push for cleaner energy, are requiring their utility companies supply more and more of their electricity from nontraditional renewable resources like wind and solar, Culbertson said.

More than 9,000 megawatts of electricity from these sources are now installed or under construction in the Pacific Northwest and more on the way. The region’s power grid managers need flexible energy sources that can be instantly turned on or off to balance supply and demand when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, Culbertson said.

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