Northwest Hydropower News

Climate report shows Yakima Basin vulnerable to future water supply problems

By Kate Prengaman
Yakima Herald-Republic

From earlier snow melts to more wildfires, the Yakima River Basin is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a new national report released Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The report, the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, emphasizes that communities across the country are already experiencing some effects of climate change, from intense storms to devastating droughts. The administration hopes the report, written by more than 250 scientists, will spur action to cut carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to already changing conditions.

In the Northwest, scientists say basins such as the Yakima Basin are the most vulnerable to future water supply problems. That’s because the basin is already over-allocated and the current system is highly dependent on winter snow to meet summer demands. Read more

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New-age water wheels harvest hydrokinetic energy

By: Kate Prengaman
Yakima Herald-Republic

SELAH — Farmers across the Yakima Basin depend on a network of canals to deliver water for their crops. Now, scientists believe the canals could provide another resource to the region: renewable energy.

Capturing the energy contained in the water flowing in the Northwest’s rivers is nothing new — hydropower dams have been doing just that since the 1930s. But new turbine technology can create electricity without using dams or reservoirs, which carry environmental impacts.

A Canadian company is testing out a turbine in the Roza Canal, just south of the Yakima Canyon.

“We are creating power from moving water without the need for damming or diversions,” said Shannon Halliday, the director of business development for Instream Energy Systems. “The testing we’re doing in Roza will help us develop our next-generation technology.” Read more

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Energy firm pulls plug on Oregon wave-power project

The quiet shuttering of an ambitious Oregon project — the nation’s first grid-connected, commercial-scale wave park — is the latest setback for the nascent wave-energy sector in the United States.

By: Joshua Hunt and Diane Cardwell
The New York Times

PORTLAND — At the Port of Portland sits a 260-ton buoy filled with technology that can turn the movement of the ocean into electricity to power 100 homes. It rolled off an assembly line to great fanfare two years ago and received the nation’s first commercial license to operate.

It was to be the start of the closely watched follow-up to a failed attempt in the 1990s to harness the power of the Pacific Ocean, in which one of the first test-buoy generators quickly sank.

But this time around, the buoy did not even get that chance.

Its maker, Ocean Power Technologies, quietly abandoned the project last month without ever deploying its machine off the coast.


Despite receiving at least $8.7 million in federal and state grants, Ocean Power told regulators that it could not raise enough money to cover higher-than-expected costs and would instead pursue a similar project in Australia, backed by a $62 million commitment from that country’s government. Read more

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Dorena hydro project just may be water over the dam

By: Christian Wihtol
The Register Guard

COTTAGE GROVE — Dreams of clean energy from a new hydroelectric plant on Dorena Dam have turned into a financial nightmare for the project owner and the plant’s general contractor, new legal filings show.

Rather than seeing green, they are seeing red.

Under construction for nearly two years and originally slated to be done last June, the innovative, privately owned power plant still is not operating. It is many millions of dollars over budget, according to recently filed documents in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene. Read more

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Drawdown of Columbia River reservoir creates problems, opportunities

By: Becky Kramer
The Spokesman-Review

VANTAGE, Wash. – Mud, lots of mud, with a river flowing through it.

Anja Reynolds gaped at an unfamiliar Columbia last week as her husband, Dave, and their three kids stretched their legs at a park near the river’s edge. The Shelton, Wash., family had stopped for a break on the six-hour drive to Spokane.

The river no longer filled the gorge at Vantage from basalt cliff to basalt cliff. Vast mudflats stretched out to the water. A “no trespassing” sign warned the family to stay off the unstable shoreline.

“I’ve seen the river a lot,” Anja Reynolds said. “This is different.”

The reservoir behind Wanapum Dam has been drawn down since late February, to relieve pressure on a crack that developed in one of the concrete supports for the dam’s spillway gates. As they pass over the Columbia on Interstate 90, people are getting a glimpse of the river not seen since the dam’s reservoir filled in 1964. Read more

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Central Oregon hydro project acquired by Apple

By: The Associated Press
The Register Guard

BEND — Apple has acquired a hydroelectric project near the company’s new data center in Prineville.

Data centers use lots of electricity to power thousands of computers that hold digital information.

Company spokesman Chris Gaither told The Bulletin newspaper that Apple will not comment specifically on the deal, but it has made running its facilities on renewable power a priority.

The 45-Mile Hydroelectric Project was first proposed in 2010 by EBD Hydro of Bend.

EBD Hydro estimated the project would generate 3 to 3.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 2,100 to 2,450 homes.

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Possible causes of Wanapum Dam crack narrowed

By: Nicholas K. Geranios
Associated Press

Pressure from the water behind Wanapum Dam may have contributed to the big crack that has disrupted operations at the structure, the Grant County Public Utility District said Wednesday.

The cause of the crack remains unknown, but the utility said it had ruled out four possibilities: seismic activity, foundation settlement, operation of spillway gates and explosions at the nearby Yakima Training Center operated by the U.S. Army.

Chuck Berrie, assistant general manager of the utility, said learning the cause could occur as soon as the next two or three weeks.

The 65-foot-long crack was detected by divers on Feb. 27, three days after a worker at the dam noticed that the top of a spillway pier had shifted slightly. When the reservoir behind the dam was drawn down by 26 feet, the pressure on the spillway was reduced and the fracture closed. Read more

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Oregon data centers win praise from Greenpeace, a former skeptic

By: Mike Rogoway
The Oregonian

Data centers are huge, hulking industrial operations – remote warehouses packed with thousands of computers. They use as much electricity as small cities to store our e-mails, photos and Facebook updates, and to keep their computers cool.

Environmentalists once fretted over these server farms, lamenting the toll all that energy use took on the environment. But many of the big data center operators have a new, unlikely ally: Greenpeace.

The watchdog group issued an unusually rosy report Wednesday morning, lavishing praise on Apple, Facebook and other companies that Greenpeace had been sharply critical of in the past.

What’s changed? Several big data center operators have gotten religion, committing themselves to using clean energy throughout their facilities. They’re dragging power utilities along by creating demand for renewable power, which n turn prompts the utilities to create new sources of clean energy. Read more

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Tribes talk salmon, dams as Columbia River Treaty renewal looms

By: Becky Kramer The Spokesman-Review

Northwest tribes and their Canadian counterparts are meeting in Spokane this week to discuss engineering solutions for getting salmon over Grand Coulee Dam.

Returning chinook, sockeye and steelhead to the upper Columbia River is a long-standing dream for indigenous people on both sides of the border. When the 550-foot-tall dam began operation in 1942 without fish ladders, it cut off access to hundreds of miles of upstream habitat, delivering the final blow to a fishery already weakened by overharvest on the lower river.

“We all know that our biggest challenge is Grand Coulee, because it’s such a big dam,” said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland. Read more

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Murky outlook at Wanapum Dam

By: Kate Prengaman
Yakima Herald-Republic

VANTAGE — The boat ramp stretches out into mud, mud and more mud. Nearly 100 feet of mud now stands between the launch at Wanapum Recreational Area and the water.

That’s what a 26-foot drop in this stretch of the Columbia River looks like — dead-end docks, drying and dying mussels, newly exposed sandbars and a couple stranded boats tied up below the Interstate 90 bridge. Farther upriver, the low water revealed what authorities suspect are human bones.

It has been a half-century since the water was this low. That was 1964, the year the Wanapum Dam began full hydropower operations.

Now, long-submerged shorelines are again visible because the Grant County Public Utility District has dropped water levels to relieve pressure from a recently discovered crack in one of the dam’s 12 spillways. Read more

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