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Pumped-storage hydropower can help Washington meet its 100% clean-energy goal

August 16, 2019

As Washington state begins its transition to a carbon-free electrical supply, a new project under development near Goldendale has the potential to deliver an abundance of clean electricity to support the Northwest energy grid. This project already has the support of a wide range of stakeholders.

The proposed Goldendale Pumped Storage Project, eight miles south of Goldendale next to the Columbia River, would create 1,200 megawatts of clean electricity to integrate into the existing power grid, as well as tap into and use power already being generated by the Northwest’s wind and solar-energy projects.

During periods of excess energy from these other sources, water would be pumped from a lower reservoir near the river to an upper reservoir on the bluff some 2,400 feet above. Water in the upper reservoir would then be held and released to the lower reservoir via an underground pipeline, generating electricity as it passes through three hydroelectric turbines, enabling Northwest utilities to meet peak electricity demand.

The hydropower project would be built at the former Golden Northwest Aluminum smelter and would generate roughly the same capacity as the nearby Bonneville Dam. It could power all the homes in Seattle for 12 hours. Rye Development and National Grid, two of the leading hydroelectric developers and grid operators in the world, have teamed up to finance and build the project.

Various power-grid analyses indicate that due to future power demands and the retirement of regional coal plants, the Pacific Northwest faces a potential deficit unless new power generation is added.

The need for energy storage will increase substantially with the recent passage this legislative session of Washington’s landmark 100% clean-electricity bill. Several studies have demonstrated that moving away from coal and natural gas toward 100% clean sources of electricity will create the need for significant expansion of renewable energy generation and energy storage needed to meet periods of peak demand.

The project’s proposed design is called “closed loop,” meaning that once the lower reservoir is filled, the water is recirculated over and over between the upper and lower reservoirs. When renewable electricity is too plentiful and cannot be used, such as in the middle of the night for wind, or during peak sun hours, the plant will use that surplus to pump the water from the lower to the upper reservoir. Then, during peak demand hours, the water is returned by gravity to the lower reservoir passing through the turbine generators along the way.

The proposed project, built on private lands, will involve no river or stream impoundments, allowing for minimal potential environmental impact. Initial fill water and periodic makeup water would be purchased from the Klickitat County Public Utility District.

The project would infuse $2.14 billion dollars into rural Washington and generate the equivalent of more than 3,000 full-year jobs over a four-year construction period. An estimated 50 to 70 permanent jobs would be created along with millions of dollars in annual property taxes for Klickitat County to fund schools, roads, libraries and other infrastructure.

The purposed timeline project is to have a permitting decision by 2022. The plant could be operational by 2028.

The project has filed a preliminary application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to secure a license with construction beginning within three to four years. That schedule fits well the anticipated capacity needs of several Washington and Oregon utilities, including Puget Sound Energy, Avista and Portland General Electric.

In July, FERC hosted the first of many meetings with interested parties to discuss the project and the licensing process. Not surprisingly, a diverse array of stakeholders back the project, including the Washington State Labor Council, Certified Electrical Workers of Washington, renewable energy advocates, Klickitat PUD, Klickitat County and the city of Goldendale.

National Grid also reached out to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council in 2018 to conduct a cultural resource study of the area. We want to make sure concerns of the Yakama Nation are addressed.

It is time for the Pacific Northwest to build a new regional energy project. As was the case with the region’s development of its hydroelectric system, this project will provide decades of value to utilities and customers and help Washington move toward 100% clean electricity. This vision of a pump storage project at Goldendale has been talked about for many years because of the location and proximity to the regional power grid, and its natural elevation gain of more than 2,000 vertical feet between the top and lower reservoirs.

Another similar but smaller project, Swan Lake North near Klamath Falls Oregon has approval by FERC and has a capacity of 400 megawatts at an estimated cost of $866 million. The creation of closed-loop pumped storage has been in use for many decades throughout the U.S. and in countries around the world. Soon, this same technology will be needed right here in the Northwest in order to meet our region’s growing demand for clean energy.

- The Seattle Times - By Nate Sandvig and Matthew Hepner