Conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest are paying off as record numbers of sockeye salmon are returning to the Columbia River.
So far this year, nearly 300,000 Okanagan sockeye salmon have swum up the fish ladder at Bonneville Lock and Dam, while chinook, coho, chums, pinks and steelhead are also expected to return in large numbers. Records show fewer than 9,000 of the above named species returned to the Columbia Basin in 1995, and the Okanagan sockeye – a type particularly difficult to rear in hatcheries – were quickly dwindling.
Although some of the fish population’s increase can be attributed to natural factors such as favorable ocean conditions, biologists say habitat improvements made at many hydroelectric facilities have also been a significant ingredient in the fish resurgence.
Not only have utilities and hydropower plant owners begun providing more natural spawning areas in their facilities’ designs, but also they have developed flow schedules that give roe a better chance of surviving.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the 1,076.6-MW Bonneville project, currently is undertaking fish ladder improvements to address lamprey passage at the dam.
By Christine Pratt
WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD last month received an extra assurance that it won’t have to buy wind or solar power only to comply with new state targets for renewable energy, or pay an estimated fine of more than $2 million.
The state Department of Commerce confirmed in an Aug. 23 letter that the both the fish bypass and turbine/generator upgrades completed at Rocky Reach Dam after March 1999 create energy efficiencies that the utility can count toward its state renewable energy targets.
Both projects, PUD officials estimate, enable the utility to generate more electricity with the same amount of water for an estimated gain of more than 1 million average megawatt hours in 2012.
If Commerce had ruled that the efficiency gains from the two projects could not count toward the new targets, the PUD likely would not have met its targets with its own generation, Melissa Lyons, power resource analyst for the PUD, said Tuesday. Read more.
By Rocky Barker
Few projects carried the hope and hubris of the New Deal more than the Bonneville Power Act. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the law creating the Bonneville Power Administration 75 years ago tomorrow. His dream was to harness the Columbia River and turn nature’s flows into electricity to power industry, provide jobs to lift the poor out of poverty and transform the life and economy of the Pacific Northwest.
“This vast water power can be of incalculable value to this whole section of the country,” Roosevelt said in a speech in Portland in 1932. “It means cheap manufacturing production, economy and comfort on the farm and in the household.” Read more.
By Mike Faulk
PASCO — Using his hometown soapbox to hammer away at those who would remove hydropower dams, U.S. Rep. Doc Hasting on Wednesday gaveled a congressional committee to order on legislation that would dramatically limit the use of federal funds for dam-removal efforts.
Hastings’ “Saving Our Dams and Hydropower Development and Jobs Act of 2012″ would strip funding from environmental groups that want to remove hydropower dams and prohibit the use of federal dollars to remove them drew pointed comments at a field hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“The threat to the Snake River and other dams is very real,” U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings said in opening statements. The measure is HB 6247.
But opponents of the bill, including environmental, fishing and American Indian groups, say it would punish advocates who call for the removal of obsolete dams that hurt traditional fish habitats. Consolidating oversight and decision-making over dams into the hands of Congress, as called for in the bill, would only lead to more gridlock of the environmental and economic impact of dams nationwide, witnesses said. Read more.
Vancouver — Washington’s 17 largest electric utilities, including Clark Public Utilities, have exceeded initial energy efficiency goals of the state’s voter-approved clean energy law and easily exceeded its renewables standard, according to a new report from the Northwest Energy Coalition. Read more.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt fulfilled a campaign promise when construction on the $88.4 million project started in 1934.
Named for Army Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, an early explorer of what became the Oregon Trail, Bonneville Dam boasted some unique engineering designs.
Colonial-revival-style architecture was featured in the administration buildings.
The powerhouse on the Washington side opened in 1981 and the modern navigation lock in 1993. The 97-acre district around the dam was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Read more.
LONGVIEW, Wash. — Officials expect a $60 million energy conservation project at the Norpac paper mill in Longview will make it more competitive and save electricity for the region.
The Daily News reports (http://is.gd/wo4QSe) the new equipment celebrated at a ribbon-cutting Thursday will reduce the amount of energy used at the mill, which is jointly owned by Weyerhaeuser and Nippon Paper Industries of Japan.
Weyerhaeuser is financing $35 million of the project. The Cowlitz PUD is contributing $4 million and the Bonneville Power Administration $21 million. They say the improvements at the mill will save low-cost hydropower and reduce the utility’s need to buy more-expensive energy. Read more.
By Chenfei Zhang
WASHINGTON – The nation could get new electricity from old dams, saving time and money compared to damming new streams, under a bill that passed the House unanimously this week.
The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and praised by one environmental watchdog group, would speed up the licensing of projects that retrofit existing dams and pipelines.
Building new hydropower dams can be harmful to rivers, Matthew Rice of American Rivers said, but “this bill considers more than just increased megawatts.”
Just 3 percent of the nation’s 80,000 dams are designed for hydropower, but almost 70 percent have the potential to generate electricity, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy. Different dams could be retrofitted to generate between 1 megawatt and 500 megawatts. Read more.
By Becky Kramer
Nearly 50 years ago, Canada and the United States shook hands over a groundbreaking accord that altered life in the Northwest.
The Columbia River Treaty turned the 1,200-mile-long river and its tributaries into an electrical powerhouse, producing more kilowatts than any other North American river system.
As a result of the treaty, three large storage dams in British Columbia and Montana’s Libby Dam were built to boost downstream hydropower production, fueling the Northwest’s supply of cheap electricity. The storage dams also held back the spring runoff that had caused destructive flooding.
“Even though it’s not commonly known, the treaty really runs the lives of everyone in the Northwest,” said Suzanne Skinner, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy in Seattle. “It’s the fulcrum, or balancing point, for everything we want from the river.” Read more.
By Christian Wihtol
COTTAGE GROVE — After nearly a decade of planning, an energy company has begun building a powerhouse to generate electricity from water flowing at Dorena Dam southeast of Cottage Grove.
The work began in late June and is expected to take a year.
The power project’s owner is Idaho-based Symbiotics, a branch of Riverbank Power, a privately held Toronto company that’s pursuing hydroelectric projects in the United States, Peru and Chile.
Riverbank Power in mid-May announced that it had secured $38 million in loans to finance the 7.5-megawatt Dorena project and the 4.7-megawatt Clark Canyon hydroelectric project in Montana.
The company has not said how much the Dorena project is costing, but officials at the Emerald People’s Utility District, which until last year was involved in the undertaking, estimated its cost at $20 million. Read more.