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By Brittany Allen
For The Sentinel 

Pumped storage project on hold

 


A planned project for using an enormous pumped storage facility in Klickitat County to generate power has come to a standstill, at least for the moment.

Pumped storage as a source of hydroelectric energy is not a new concept, but it has been about 20 years since the last facility was built. Klickitat Public Utility District (KPUD) is looking to change that. For a number of years now, the KPUD, along with Klickitat and Sherman counties, has been trying to get what is referred to as the John Day Pool Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project off of the drawing board and into the area’s renewable energy system. The proposed facility would be located near the site of the old aluminum plant.

Unlike wind or solar energy, hydroelectric facilities like the KPUD is proposing are more consistent sources of energy. One of the projected consumers for this facility is Washington’s solar-equipped neighbor California. The way the pumped storage will work is based on an uphill reservoir system in which the water will be pooled during the day so that at night, when solar energy is a less viable option, the water can be pumped back downhill through turbines out to create energy for various parts of the region, including the entire Columbia River Gorge.

Initially, it was proposed that each of the three entities would put up one third of the cost of permitting the build of the pumped storage facility. Recently, progress on the project has come to a bit of a standstill, as confirmed by KPUD commissioner Randy Knowles. The KPUD commission recently made the decision to not put any more money into the project at this time and the deadline for the permit process is fast approaching. As of sometime this October or November, the time for the KPUD to obtain the permit for the project will lapse, leaving it open to be picked up by other, possibly private-sector, organizations.

Funding is essentially the largest roadblock facing the project to date—that and the fact that it is difficult presently to put a monetary value on the product of such a facility.

“Some of the markets for capacity and some of the services that the project could supply are not very well developed right now and that makes it difficult to calculate what the ultimate revenues might be,” says KPUD General Manager Jim Smith.

Without a clear picture of what they’re buying into, investors are hesitant to provide funds, hence the difficulty in finding investors.

Sherman County, according to both Sherman County Commissioners Tom McCoy and Judge Gary Thompson, is still supportive of the project, but the commission withdrew its intention to be financially involved in funding it due to legal ramifications. Such ramifications included possible backlash from the use of Oregon taxpayer-generated money to help fund a facility not located within the state.

Thompson claims to still be actively supportive and looking for investors along with Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter. Both counties have essentially put a halt on helping to fund the project. Klickitat County, according to Sauter, did put up the originally proposed half million dollars, which has already been allocated and essentially spent, but is currently “comfortable with our previous level of commitment,” he says, and not looking to funnel any more funds into the project.

Though Sauter admits that it would be preferable given the county’s familiarity with KPUD for KPUD to head such a project, he says that the detail of who builds the facility is not nearly as important to the county as it is just for the facility to be built.

“Klickitat County continues to be supportive of the project because we really do see it as being an asset in the county,” Sauter says. “Both [for] the jobs: the construction jobs during the construction of the project, the long term jobs for the operation of it, but especially for the tax base it would bring to the county.”

The clock is ticking on the KPUD’s deadline for making use of their already obtained funds. Come this fall either the project will be on its way to a permit or possibly on the ambitious agenda of an entirely different organization.

 

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