Northwest Hydropower News

A lot of dam potential: Renewables growth could drive massive hydro buildout

By Herman K. Trabish
Utility Dive

U.S. hydroelectric power, the nation’s oldest and biggest renewable, could see striking growth through 2050 – if developers work around its potential harms to river ecosystems and take advantage of expected growth in wind and solar.

Hydropower provided 6.2% of the nation’s electricity, 48% of all renewable electricity, and 97% of all energy storage in 2015, according to a new report, “Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s First Renewable Electricity Source,” from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

That almost 101 GW of combined hydropower generating and storage installed capacity in 2015 could explode to nearly 150 GW in 2050, the report’s rigorous modeling found. But that will require technology innovations to drive the cost of project development and financing down and to solve environmental challenges.

“The growth potential for hydropower is real,” Jose Zayas, DOE’s Wind and Water Technologies Office Director, told Utility Dive.

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U.S. Department of Energy writes new chapter for hydropower vision

The U.S. Department of Energy has issued a far ranging evaluation of the future of hydropower in the United States. The backdrop of the report is continued national desires for low-cost, low-carbon, renewable energy.

The report finds that hydropower’s contribution to electrical supply could grow from 101 gigawattts (GW) of capacity to 150 GW by 2050. Such a jump is the equivalent of supplying enough new power to meet the needs of over 35 million homes. Along with this would be billions in savings from avoided greenhouse emissions. The report postulates that these gains could occur through technological evolution, low-cost financing and embracing environmental sustainability. Click here for report.

The Northwest, which relies on hydropower to generate well over half of its electricity, is already spending millions of dollars annually to upgrade and optimize generation and operational performance at hydropower projects. The Northwest is also familiar and continues to investigate efforts to install hydropower in irrigation canals and non-powered dams.

What would be new to the Northwest is the full embrace given by the report to deploying and integrating pumped storage technology into the mix. Currently, the Northwest has only one pumped storage project, the John Keys III Pump Generation Plant at Grand Coulee Dam.

The report concludes that 35.5 GW of new pumped storage could be developed nationally by combining advanced technology and low cost financing. This represents 73 percent of potential hydropower gains envisioned by the report. There are eight prospective pumped-storage projects in the Northwest.

Pumped storage projects take water passing through a project area and “pump” it to an additional reservoir during off-peak hours. Water is then released back through the turbines when the demand and value of power is highest. A key benefit of pumped storage is its ability to come on and off line quickly, thus making it an ideal way to support variable generation resources such as wind and solar.

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The surprisingly bright future of America’s forgotten renewable energy source: water

By Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis
Washington Post

Long before wind and solar, water was the nation’s top renewable energy source. Going back some 100 years, the United States built enormous dams — like the Depression-era Hoover Dam in Nevada — to produce tremendous amounts of energy.

We have so many such dams that hydropower last year remained our fourth largest source of electricity overall and our single largest renewable source, providing 6 percent of Americans’ electricity. Yet it’s rarely talked about and lacks the excitement attached to other renewables. That’s in part because dams are controversial and can have major environmental consequences, affecting wildlife and altering local ecosystems. New ones also are expensive to build.

“A lot of people, when they think about hydro, they don’t think that there’s much growth opportunity,” said Jose Zayas, who directs the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the Department of Energy. “We wanted to really quantify the benefits of hydro.” Read More

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Study says drawing down Lower Granite Reservoir during summer could help fish

By Eric Barker
Spokesman Review

Drawing down Lower Granite Reservoir during summer heatwaves could be an effective tool to help sockeye salmon and other protected fish by mitigating high water temperatures, according to analysis performed by the Portland-based Fish Passage Center.

But just as it did in a 1992 experiment, a drawdown would also disrupt barge transportation on the lower Snake River, leave some recreational facilities high and dry, and cause some riverside highways and railroad beds to sag and crack.

At the request of the Nez Perce Tribe and the state of Oregon, the center that is funded by Pacific Northwest hydropower ratepayers analyzed the feasibility of lowering the lower Snake River behind Lower Granite Dam from its present elevation of about 733 feet above sea level to as low as 690 feet. Doing so would reduce the surface area exposed to solar radiation, speed the pace of the river and increase the effectiveness of cold water releases from Dworshak Reservoir. Read More

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Study Analyzes Survival Tests for Young Salmon/Steelhead Moving Downriver Through Columbia/Snake Dams

By Staff Reporter
Columbia Basin Bulletin

Results of survival tests for young salmon and steelhead that migrate to the ocean through six Federal Columbia River Power System dams all generally exceeded the survival requirements of NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 FCRPS biological opinion for Columbia River salmon and steelhead, according to a recent study. Read More

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Judge Gives Feds Nearly Five Years to Complete NEPA Process For New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan

By Staff Reporter
Columbia Basin Bulletin

The federal judge presiding over the rewriting of the recovery plan for thirteen species of Columbia River salmon and steelhead says a thorough National Environmental Policy Act review is more important than the shortened remand schedule proposed by the litigation’s plaintiffs. Read More

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Lawsuit targets dam operators over impacts to bull trout

By Kate Prengaman
Yakima Herald

Dam operators across the Columbia River Basin are not doing enough to protect endangered bull trout, according to allegations in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

Two Bureau of Reclamation facilities on the Yakima River are mentioned in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court by the Montana-based environmental group Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  Read More

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EWEB sells Smith Creek dam for $22.1 million to pay down debt

By Christian Hill
Eugene Register Guard

The Eugene Water & Electric Board has sold its hydro­electric project in Idaho and will use the money from the sale to pay down debt, but it must continue buying power from the dam’s new owner at below-market rates for the next three years. Read more

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Group sues to force pollution disclosure at Grand Coulee Dam

By Phuong Le, Associated Press
Spokesman Review

An environmental group sued the federal agency that operates the nation’s largest hydropower producer Wednesday, saying operations at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington are polluting the Columbia River in violation of federal clean water laws.

The nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper says the Bureau of Reclamation should get a pollution permit and be required to disclose as well as reduce the amount of oil, greases and other pollutants the dam in Eastern Washington sends into local waters. Read More

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FWEE Hydropower STEM Academy connects students to careers

The Foundation for Water and Energy Education (FWEE) launched the first FWEE Hydropower and STEM Career Academy at Rocky Reach Dam in Wenatchee the week of June 20—24.

Students explored the physics of producing and distributing hydropower while meeting and doing hands-on activities with mechanical and electrical engineers, plant mechanics and operators, divers, and linemen. As the week unfolded, professionals and educators gave insights into career options and educational pathways to connect them with these careers.

“It’s part of a ‘grow your own’ strategy,” said Andy Dunau, Executive Director of FWEE. Nationally, one-third of utility employees will retire in the next 10 years.

Particularly in rural areas, finding qualified engineers and others with math, science and technology skills is a huge challenge. Utilities find that people who grow up in the area are much more likely to not only apply for these type of jobs, but stay. Said Dunau, “We’re talking very good paying jobs that allow you to stay in the community.”

As with any “first,” there was much trepidation as the week with 16 students. But as hands-on STEM activities were combined with tours and career talks and academic counseling, the students became lit up. By graduation, they were a buzz.

Said one student, “I am interested in electrical engineering because this academy helped me see a path. The apprenticeship and other information was insanely helpful. I really have an understanding that I didn’t know existed.”

FWEE intends to offer the Academy next year as well.

Read the Wenatchee World article here

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