Washington utility providers face two challenges in the near future: finding additional electricity to prevent outages while also complying with state Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) requirements to rely more on clean energy sources—most of which lack storage capacity.
A proposed closed-system hydro pump storage project by Rye Development near Goldendale could help meet both objectives. When completed, the wind-solar-hydro system will be able to generate and store electricity sufficient to power the equivalent of the Seattle metro area for 12 hours. Additionally, the project would boost the local economy during its four-year construction.
A major issue for utilities trying to comply with CETA is that wind and solar can only provide electricity when weather allows for its generation. While a hydroelectric dam is capable of storing its energy, various constraints – including concerns over the impact to salmon migration – make it unlikely that more will be built. There have also been efforts over the years to have existing dams on the lower Snake River removed, action which requires congressional authorization.
The Goldendale project avoids these issues due to its closed-system design. The site uses wind and solar energy, when available, to pump 60 acres worth of water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir. During high demand periods, water is then released back through the pumps and passes through a turbine to generate electricity.
Rye Development Vice President of Project Development Erik Steimle told Lens that unlike other similar projects “this doesn’t require a new river or building a new dam. This is essentially a closed system of two new artificial reservoirs that we’re building on the landscape. Our only use of water is to offset evaporation.”
Steimle added that another benefit to the design is that most of it is underground or concealed and is not taking up any new land, as it occupies the former space of an aluminum smelting plant located on private land.
“Visually this is a pretty small project on the landscape, he said. “Roads are already constructed. We’re developing an existing brownfield site into a new clean energy resource.”
The project’s 1,200 megawatts worth of electricity will also aid utilities that, under CETA, must conduct planning and modeling demonstrating how the project will be able to meet clean energy metrics.
“Utilities are now having to look well beyond renewable levels that frankly a lot of other places in the United States…haven’t had to model,” Steimle said. “This is a pretty large piece of that puzzle.”
The other dilemma is avoiding outages and blackouts already being experienced by people in states like California. Local utility officials have warned of a coming “reliability crisis” due to the growing population that is compounded by the push toward electrification.
“What utilities are seeing is essentially…real challenges with capacity,” Steimle said. “We’re needing to plan around 5,000-7,000 megawatts of additional carbon free capacity. We’ll need projects like Goldendale to support the transportation (electrification) as well.”
The project would invest $2 billion into the local economies of Klickitat County and The Dalles, Oregon, along with providing 3,000 construction jobs. Currently, the total workforce in Klickitat is 6,300 workers; Steimle said many of the workers will come from the Puget Sound area.
“This area of both states is familiar with the jobs that come with building new renewable sources of electricity,” he said.
For regional labor, the project provides not only job opportunities but also the ability to train the up-and-coming skilled workforce. Due to the project’s construction timeline, new workers would be able to complete their entire apprenticeship programs on the site.
Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Willy Myers wrote in a statement that the project “is an opportunity to replenish our skilled workforce by training union apprentices in many of the building trade crafts. As our skilled workforce retires the building trades is always looking for projects with a large enough scope and duration that can cover our 4-5 year apprenticeship training programs – giving apprentices the opportunity to earn a career that pays a living wage.”
Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Mark Riker added that the project would allow them “to employ a broad spectrum of our skilled crafts suppling critical living wage union jobs in rural Washington.”
The permitting has been completed for a similar project at Swan Lake in Southern Oregon, and Steimle said that one of the lessons learned from that is “working with (the) local community and ensuring these projects are an important part, or cornerstone, of their economic development plan.”
The Goldendale project is currently in the permitting phase with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, though it will also have to be reviewed under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). An environmental impact statement is being prepared for submission to the state Department of Ecology.
Although other major projects proposed in the state have unsuccessfully sought approval from Ecology, the most recent a methanol plant in Kalama, some stakeholders are optimistic about the Goldendale project due to how it helps achieve numerous state policy environmental and energy goals.
“The project will give Washington the opportunity to show that we can permit and build the large energy infrastructure projects we need while also employing our skilled union work force,” Certified Electrical Workers of Washington Executive Secretary Matthew Hepner said. “It will provide critical energy storage for wind and solar as we build the infrastructure for our clean energy future.”
If approved, the project is expected to begin construction in 2025 and start operating in 2028.