Canal power moving forward

September 7, 2012
Canal power moving forward

By Jordan Novet / The Bulletin

The Three Sisters Irrigation District is moving forward with planning for a project to generate hydroelectric power at Watson Reservoir.

The district filed land-use applications for the hydroelectric project with Deschutes County last week. It’s expected to generate 700 kilowatts — enough electricity for about 300 homes — seven months of the year, according to the district’s website.

Water currently being diverted from Whychus Creek will go through the proposed plant, at the eastern edge of the reservoir, and then flow into the reservoir, according to documents submitted with the land-use applications. It will not use additional water.

PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power, has agreed to buy the power, said Marc Thalacker, the district’s manager.

To prepare for the hydroelectric project, the district — formerly known as the Squaw Creek Irrigation District — has piped more than 20,000 feet, or 3.7 miles, of the main canal in three phases during the past three years. The piping project, paid for with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, increased flows to Whychus Creek, which contributes to the Deschutes River southwest of Culver.

“Now we’re just finishing up all the last few regulatory hurdles," Thalacker said of the hydroelectric project, which will cost around $2 million.

In recent years, the Swalley and Central Oregon irrigation districts have installed hydroelectric projects on irrigation canals.

More hydroelectric projects could pop up on Central Oregon canals in the future. A March report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation showed 39 spots along the North Unit Irrigation District’s main canal where power could be produced.

The Central Oregon and North Unit districts could install as many as six new hydroelectric projects in canals in the next two years, said Steve Johnson, manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

Such projects create new renewable energy, lead to water conservation and offer an additional revenue stream for irrigation districts, Johnson said.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave a $7.2 million loan guarantee to EBD Hydro — a Bend company — for developing a hydroelectric project east of Culver along the North Unit Irrigation District’s main canal, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

A regulatory filing PacifiCorp submitted to the Oregon Public Utility Commission in March showed the utility was willing to pay less than the Three Sisters Irrigation District was expecting, Thalacker said.

That’s when the company started looking for a way to generate additional revenue to compensate for the loss of anticipated revenue from electricity generation.

The district is working with the Deschutes River Conservancy to receive money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., for taking less water from Whychus Creek, Thalacker said.

He said the district was planning to start making power with its hydroelectric facility in 2013, but PacifiCorp’s release of new rates prompted the district to slow down the time line. The district should finish constructing and testing the plant by September 2013 and start producing and selling power in March 2014, Thalacker said.

Making money off the hydroelectric project isn’t the main goal, he said.

“Ultimately, our business model is more about Endangered Species (Act) and Clean Water Act mitigation and protecting our farmers’ water rights, as well as delivering water on farms, than it is about creating profit," Thalacker said.

Still, he said he’s glad to help PacifiCorp add to its supply of renewable energy. Oregon’s renewable-energy portfolio standard requires that 25 percent of utility companies’ energy comes from renewable resources by 2025.

The revenues from generating power will help pay off a loan the district took out to build a penstock for the hydroelectric project, Thalacker said.

In about six years, the district could build a second hydroelectric project, which would generate 300 kilowatts at McKenzie Reservoir, he said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2117,

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