Feds approve giant ‘battery’ in Southern Oregon

May 1, 2019

Federal energy regulators on Tuesday approved construction of what would amount to the biggest “battery” in Oregon.

The $800 million Swan Lake North Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project, 11 miles north of Klamath Falls, would move water between two 60-plus-acre reservoirs separated by more than 1,600 vertical feet, pumping the water uphill when energy is available and sending it downhill through generating turbines when energy is needed.

Pumped storage is an established technology that has proven difficult to build in the U.S. in recent decades. But it’s getting renewed attention with the rise of intermittent renewables like solar and wind.

The Swan Lake project would be able to generate nearly 400 megawatts — just a bit smaller than the Carty natural gas plant Portland General Electric brought online three years ago — for up to nine hours. By comparison, a battery storage system Portland General Electric is including with a wind and solar development in Eastern Oregon will generate just 30 megawatts for four hours.

Swan Lake is a joint project between Rye Development and National Grid, which are also in the earlier stages on an even larger project on the Washington side of the Columbia River 110 miles east of Portland.

The license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct, operate and maintain the Swan Lake project takes the developers over their last major regulatory hurdle, said Erik Steimle, vice president of project development at Rye.

But before work begins, they’ll need to find customers for the project.

Nate Sandvig of U.S. strategic growth at National Grid, said the developers were “engaged in” utility integrated resource planning processes “where modeling is showing need.” A new commitment to 100 percent renewables in Washington — to go along with California’s similar commitment — as well as early coal retirements in the West highlight the need for bigger and longer storage than can be provided by batteries, he said.

- Portland Business Journal