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Opinion: New energy storage project near Goldendale, WA will help NW power needs

June 21, 2021

Oregon and Washington are taking great strides to decarbonize the Northwest Energy Grid, however to achieve their clean energy goals while providing reliable, always-on electricity, the region will need new, innovative energy storage.

And while our national energy labs and smart private sector entrepreneurs are working on increased battery storage capabilities, others are focused on pumped storage projects. These projects pump water uphill when there is surplus electricity and release it to flow back downhill through hydropower turbines when power is needed.

When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, grid operators and electric utilities will need to rely on proven energy storage technologies to ensure the continued reliable delivery of electricity. Providing 95% of all U.S. energy storage capacity, pumped hydropower is an important one of those proven technologies. And the Goldendale pumped hydropower storage project is precisely the project the Northwest needs to ease our transition into a carbon-free future.

The blackouts that affected California last summer clearly illustrated that energy storage must play a vital role in providing access to reliable electricity.

Without grid operators’ ability to store energy for when they need it, crises like these will likely repeat due to the intermittent nature of other renewable sources such as wind and solar, which can see their production fluctuate on a daily — if not hourly — basis. According to one study, the Pacific Northwest “faces a near-term capacity shortage of up to 7,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025 and up to 10,000 MW by 2030.”

Despite the challenges ahead, policymakers at both the state and Federal levels are championing the need for large-scale pumped storage facilities like Goldendale.

The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Rich Glick, recently stated that energy storage, including pumped hydro, have “the potential to play a leading role in the transition to the electricity system of the future” and that “these resources are poised to play an even more important role in the generation mix, leading to the development of a more robust grid…”

Gov. Inslee, a fervent supporter of renewables, noted in an interview this past April that “we’re bringing on what may be the Western hemisphere’s largest pumped storage facility… to have a grid system that is fully compatible with renewable energy…” In March 2020, the governor signed a bill into law proclaiming that Goldendale was “a project of statewide significance” and thus streamlining and expediting its permit process. Kudos to my friend and former House colleague for recognizing the importance of this project.

Plans call for the Goldendale project to be constructed in the Columbia Gorge Bi-State Renewable Energy Zone, just southeast of Goldendale, Washington, and two hours east of Portland.

The Goldendale Pumped Storage Project can generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity and store another 25,506 MWh from other renewable energy sources. That’s enough power to meet the needs of Seattle for 12 hours. Further, its “closed-loop” system does not involve constructing a new dam on the Columbia. It operates by recirculating water between an upper and lower reservoir system.

Just as important as the minimal environmental impact the project would have is the number of jobs created by the project. It will create more than 3,000 family-wage jobs during its four-year construction period and another 50 to 70 permanent jobs in an area of the state that desperately needs them.

Beyond its immediate benefits of stimulating the economy in the eastern end of the Gorge, the project provides training opportunities and apprenticeship programs for a new generation of building trades union workers who will need this hands-on experience to build our renewable energy future.

The Pacific Northwest is on the path to net-zero emissions. Wind, solar, and pumped hydropower projects, like Goldendale, will all play significant roles in realizing this decarbonized future.

- By Greg Walden - Tri-City Herald