This article was published on: 03/9/11 12:00 AM
Irrigation district studying area canals for power
By Patrick Cliff / The Bulletin
Published: March 08. 2011 4:00AM PST
More hydroelectric plants could be in the region’s future, with the Central Oregon Irrigation District studying the feasibility of six sites along its canals.
The district already has two plants in the Bend area — one in the city’s Juniper Ridge project and another near Mt. Bachelor Village — and could expand that number with the assistance of a $36,000 Oregon Department of Energy grant. The potential sites are located around Bend and Redmond, with one within the limits of each city, another just south of Redmond, and three east of Bend.
The largest proposed plant — a 1.2-megawatt facility northeast of Bend — would likely cost in the neighborhood of $1 million. The district would sell the power to energy companies, which could produce up to $80,000 in annual gross revenues for the district. Each site’s study will provide more specific numbers, according to Steve Johnson, district manager.
Revenue from hydroelectric plants helps offset the district’s increasing costs, Johnson said.
“It’s not like all of a sudden it’s this awesome gold mine and every patron of the district gets to go on vacation to Hawaii,” Johnson said. “It adds additional revenue that we don’t have to charge patrons as an increase.”
Johnson expects each of the studies to be completed in the next month.
Once the studies are done, the district may send out a request for proposals calling for private companies to build plants.
Several factors could influence how much a plant costs, including who builds the infrastructure, Johnson said.
State and federal tax incentive programs help make projects like these more affordable, according to Kevin Crew, president of Tumalo-based Black Rock Consulting.
The region is ripe for more hydroelectric projects along canals, said Crew, who is working with the district on the feasibility studies.
For instance, a roughly 700-foot elevation drop between Bend and Redmond means the canal water could be used both for farming and to produce energy.
Because the plants often involve piping, the canals can become more efficient and lose less water to seepage, Crew said.
“I’m really positive about this resource we have,” Crew said. “There’s multiple uses for this water.”
If hydroelectric projects make the canals more efficient, a question remains about what happens to unused water. By piping their canals, irrigation districts are able to serve the needs of their members without diverting as much from rivers.
They may continue to divert the same amount and use the excess to irrigate more land. Alternatively, they can leave the extra water in stream, according WaterWatch Oregon Executive Director John DeVoe.
The more public funding that goes to a project, the more water must be left in a stream or river.
DeVoe’s group hopes that hydroelectric projects along canals will boost in-stream flows.
“If (the water) is kept instream, that’s great,” DeVoe said. “If it’s spread to other lands, there’s not really an environmental benefit to that.”
Patrick Cliff can be reached at 541-633-2161 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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