Group meets to examine planned pumped storage project

May 23, 2018

THE SITE: The planned project would build two enormous ponds, one where the aluminum plant was and the other on top of the cliffs overlooking it. Water from the lower pond would be pumped up to the higher one, then released when needed to generate energy.

A representative of the British government, three U.S senators, a U.S. congresswoman, personnel from the governor’s office and Washington State departments, a full complement of district legislators, commissioners from two counties, and an assortment of highly interested parties met last Tuesday to hear about and provide input on a planned pumped storage energy project for Klickitat County.

The project, with the potential to prime the economic engine of the eastern Gorge, looked a lot closer to reality after the meeting. That project, on the site of the former Golden Northwest Aluminum smelter, has been a long-held goal of the Klickitat PUD. Recently, it has attracted the attention of major players in the electricity Marketwho have both the money and the know-how to finance and construct the facility. Their involvement would take the burden of financing the project off the KPUD.

The idea is both simple in concept and bold in execution. It would involve constructing two 65-acre ponds, one on the former site of the smelter and one at the top of the cliff. Each would hold 7,000 acre-feet of water. During the times when wind blows well, and the many wind turbines in the region generate more power than the grid can currently absorb, the energy would be used to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. When the wind dies down, and electricity is needed, water from the upper reservoir can be released through a large pipe, turning a turbine to generate that electrical power as it rushes to the lower reservoir.

Many factors come together to make this a very green project that appeals to investors:

• It’s a closed system with no waste or pollution

• It can offset the variable electric output of wind and solar projects, which would allow for more such projects in the area

• Once built and filled, it would need only 700 acre feet per year to replace water that is lost to evaporation

• Klickitat PUD has the water rights that originally belonged to the aluminum company, and only a fraction is needed to keep the reservoirs full. Additional water rights are needed to fill the reservoirs initially, however, the Department of Ecology is supportive of the acquisition of these temporary rights

• The topography of the area has been described as one of the best in the nation for a pump-storage project, with more than 2,000 feet of vertical rise or “head” over barely a mile of horizontal distance

• The site is within sight of Bonneville Power Administration’s John Day substation, which is the north end of one of the two major transmission lines to California. This substation also receives power from 4,000 MWs of wind generation, which makes it a prime site to provide services to wind projects in the Gorge

• It would store 14,745 megawatt-hours of electricity-more than 100 times the capacity of the largest battery-storage project under construction by Telsa in Australia

• The pump-storage system can provide 1,200 megawatts of capacity.

• The project would generate an estimated $1.4 billion over the construction cycle, including $366 million in wages, and provide an estimated 114 permanent jobs

• Attempts to build new natural gas-fired plants in the region have been fiercely opposed by environmental groups

• Earlier efforts ran into problems from officials concerned that the lower reservoir would interfere with cleanup of the aluminum plant site. This time the application includes a letter from the Washington Department of Ecology supporting the project and Maia Bellon, director of Ecology, was there in person at the meeting

More than 40 officials and stakeholders showed up for the May 15 meeting, including executives and technicians from the two major potential investors, National Grid and Rye Development. The crowd included staff members from Gov. Inslee, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, and U.S. Senators Cantwell, Wyden, and Merkley. Washington State Senators Curtis King and Jim Honeyford and State Representative Gina Mosbrucker were there, along with Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter, PUD Commissioner Randy Knowles, Sherman County Commissioner Joe Dubalskis, and Gilliam County Judge Steve Shaffer. Several people from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, the state’s Department of Commerce, Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were in attendance, as was Robin Tyeman, British Consul from Seattle.

Following a short informational meeting at the PUD, the group boarded a bus for a tour of the site, followed by lunch at Maryhill Museum.

FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, granted a preliminary permit for the project in March, and though final approval, if granted, is several years away, there were plenty of smiles visible in the crowd.

The two principal players looking to finance the project are National Grid and Rye Development LLC.

National Grid owns the electrical and natural gas distribution systems for England and Wales, with some 30 million customers. Another division of the company operates in the United States with more than 20 million customers in the Northeast. Thursday, May 17 the company released full fiscal year results, showing the company had a profit of £3.493 billion, or $4.71 billion U.S.

Rye Development is privately held, with limited information available, and bills itself as the largest developer of new hydropower in the U.S. It’s been granted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and for four projects in the Yazoo River Basin in Mississippi, among others, and is working with a number of investors on additional projects.

Klickitat and Sherman counties have the third and fourth highest wind online capacities in the country respectively, with 1,247 mW for Klickitat County and 1,057 for Sherman County. The only higher capacities are in California and Texas.

- The Golden Sentinel | By Rodger Nichols