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PUD Eyes White River Falls Power

by Kathy Ursprung
The Dalles Chronicle, August 25, 2010

Utility pursues federal permit

Northern Wasco County PUD is considering an old source as a new power resource for its local customers.

On Aug. 23, the People's Utility District applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a preliminary permit to explore rehabilitating the decommissioned White River Falls hydroelectric project. The falls is near Tygh Valley about two miles up river from the White's confluence with the Deschutes River.

The PUD has previously explored the idea of reviving the old 1902 project, but their three-year building permit ran out the last time without action, said Bob Guidinger, who oversees the PUD's two existing hydroelectric projects at McNary and The Dalles dams.

"We feel like conditions have changed," Guidinger said. "It's green power and the push for renewable resource. And the price of power has gone up, so that makes it more valuable as a resource."

Early studies have already been completed on the project, Guidinger said. The preliminary permit would allow the PUD to investigate the technical and economic feasibility of the project. Capital costs for the project would be minimized by redeveloping the plant's original headworks and powerhouse, and using the existing diversion weir about 200 feet upstream from the falls.

The proposed four-megawatt project would produce enough electricity to power 1,600 homes -- about 16,000 megawatts a year.

Demand for power will soon begin to exceed the capacity available from the Columbia River's mainstem hydroelectric dams. Bonneville Power Administration -- which markets that power -- is set to implement a new contract that will cap amounts of the cheapest power available to preferred customers, including public utilities like Northern Wasco.

Over the past few years, the PUD has been exploring a number of options to obtain additional power to fuel increasing demands, including coal power, natural gas, and a number of other sources.

"The board likes to own its own resources," Guidinger said. "They're more economically desirable. We've been very lucky with our other two projects. We've been able to have them pay for themselves."

While the PUD is still paying off the newer McNary project, the utility's five-megawatt hydro plant at The Dalles is generating income from power sales to Puget Sound Energy.

"That one's going to be available to sell or use in our system after 2012," Guidinger said.

The FERC permit allows the PUD to "nail down" the project, so no one else can take it on, Guidinger said.

"It will give us enough time to work with all the stakeholders," he said.

Among those stakeholders are the Oregon State Parks Department, which owns the land and adjacent state park, along with various fisheries agencies and tribal authorities, which typically take an interest in river projects that might affect fisheries. Salmon migrate to the lower falls, but not above.

While Guidinger also expects river protection organizations to become involved in the process, that stretch of the river is part of a 0.6-mile reach that was excluded from the federal White River Wild and Scenic designation specifically to allow Northern Wasco PUD to redevelop a hydropower facility.

As part of the project, the PUD is looking at ways to stabilize the decaying old powerhouse at the foot of the falls, and make it a safer tourist attraction. The stone powerhouse is currently accessed via a steep, narrow trail along the face of the canyon. The PUD plan would include better access through a realigned trail.

"It won't be handicapped-accessible because it has steps at the bottom," Guidinger noted.

Guidinger also hopes the PUD can help state parks with other efforts. For example, the park's water pump died earlier this year, so the park has not been irrigated for some time. He said the PUD may be able to bring improvements to the bargaining table.

Also part of the plan is a new pipeline from the headworks to the new power station, which will sit below the old in a heavily fortified "bunker," as Guidinger described it, to protect from random gunfire and other vandalism.

"It will also have cameras," he said.

A private road will run between the new powerhouse and the PUD substation, above the canyon and about 500 feet away.

The PUD is looking at a three-year-plus timeline, Guidinger said.

FERC will take 30 to 90 days to issue the preliminary permit, followed by a 60-day comment period.

If the PUD succeeds in getting a permit for the project, it will enter a 12-month period to conduct initial phases of engineering and environmental studies.

"After that, we'll have a three-year period of time to finish the engineering, get the stakeholders on board and begin construction," Guidinger said.

The project could be eligible for at least two renewable energy benefits, the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and -- if certified as a low-impact hydroelectric facility -- Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

"They [RECs] are valuable and we will need them," Guidinger said. "By 2025 we will have to provide a percentage of our power out of REC projects."

The PUD board and management think the project is worthy of further investigation, said Dwight Langer, PUD general manager.

"This is just one of what we hope are many projects in the future that are clean and very affordable," Langer said. "The results of the study will tell us what is the appropriate move to make after this."

Kathy Ursprung
PUD Eyes White River Falls Power
The Dalles Chronicle, August 25, 2010

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