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Hydropower potential
Claims staked for regional power sites
by Jill Aho, Herald and News 3/15/09

   Developers want to build hydroelectric projects in Klamath and Lake counties to generate and sell power. 

   Several companies have filed preliminary permit applications with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), essentially staking their claims to potential sites and reserving their right to study and, if feasible, build what are called closed-system, pumped storage projects. 

   Right now, two projects are proposed in the Malin area — near Bryant Mountain and Lorella — one is planned at Swan Lake near Klamath Falls, and two were studied in Lake County at Abert Rim and Summer Lake. 

   Estimated costs of the studies range from $150,000 to $15 million. 

   Most of the proposals use an upper reservoir, either natural or constructed, to store water. When needed, the water is released into a tunnel that connects to a power facility housing one or more turbines. After flowing through the turbines, the water is collected in a lower reservoir and then pumped back so the process can be repeated. 

   The amount of work necessary to develop hydroelectric power sources is immense and includes building reservoirs, tunnels, transmission lines and facilities, as well as mitigating environmental impacts from nearly every angle, said Donald Holmstrom, field manager of the Klamath Falls resource area of the Bureau of Land Management. 

   Although many studies are conducted, few such projects are actually built, he said. 

   According to Energy Information Administration statistics, Oregon has no pumped storage hydroelectric plants, but 18 other states do. 

   Bryant Mountain 

   A former Klamath County resident has been studying what is called the Bryant Mountain Pumped Storage Project since the 1980s. 

   Project developer Bart O’Keeffe has a photo from 1986 of himself doing an inspection of the site northeast of Malin. 

   O’Keeffe is familiar with Klamath County and its water issues because he grew up in the area before migrating to California. 

   “I know it like my backyard,” he said. 

   A civil engineer, O’Keeffe said he’s been planning and constructing large hydroelectric projects for 50 years. 

   O’Keeffe’s proposal is linked to a potential energy generation project near Malin that would consist of hydroelectric, wind and gas-powered facilities in a complex named the Southern Oregon Energy Center. The project would be sited adjacent to the Pacific Northwest-California Electrical Inter-tie and major gas transmission lines. 

   FERC filings for the Bryant Mountain project contain details related to the Southern Oregon Energy Center. Water from a pumped storage reservoir could be used to cool a 1,000-megawatt gas facility.. The hydroelectric portion of the facility would be designed to generate as much as 1,175 megawatts on demand. 

   To put those amounts in perspective, Toby Freeman, spokesman for Pacific Power, said the hydro project would be able to generate more than twice as much power as the Klamath Cogeneration Plant. By comparison, Pacific Power’s Klamath River project can generate 169 megawatts at any given time. 

   But the Bryant Mountain project would not be designed to operate all the time. It is instead intended to store power in the form of water, and to enhance a proposed wind farm. 

   O’Keeffe said the proposed reservoirs could be oversized to store water for agricultural use during dry periods. His proposal states it would use Bureau of Reclamation canals D and J to initially fill the upper reservoir when the canals are not in use for irrigation purposes. 

   Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Kevin Moore said any comments the agency intends to make would be made public once they are submitted to FERC. 

   “In the scheme of pumped storage, the same water is recycled uphill and downhill,” O’Keeffe said. “After initial reservoir filling, all that is needed for pumped storage is makeup water, to replace seepage and evaporation. That is not too much. There are large wells in the area that can be used for this purpose.” 

   Klamath Water Users Association spokeswoman Belinda Stewart said that although the group was not entirely familiar with the different pumped storage projects under study, the concept was interesting. 

   “It seems like there have been a lot of these cropping up recently,” she said. “Any we can get going are a good thing.” 

   Irrigators’ power rates are increasing, and Stewart said California irrigators would feel the impact this year. 

   “It will be an issue with equal bearing as water delivery would have,” Stewart said. “And a stable source of water is a continuing goal.” 

   Lorella/Klamath County Water Project 

   This project would be sited two miles southwest of Lorella and 10 miles northeast of Malin, and would be built almost entirely on BLM land. 

   It proposes to put an upper reservoir in the Bryant Mountain Upland and construct four miles of transmission line to connect to an existing Bonneville Power Administration line that runs to the Captain Jack Substation. 

   Two developers submitted preliminary permit applications to study the closed-system, pumped storage project, picking up where another developer left off. 

   Energy Recycling Company withdrew its preliminary permit obtained in 1998, and the competing applications were filed immediately after a 30-day waiting period dictated by FERC. 

   Swan Lake 

   Symbiotics, a multistate energy agency that has multiple project studies in the West, filed an application to study a project in the Swan Lake area near Klamath Falls. 

   The project proposes to use about 530 acres and build 12.5 miles of new transmission lines on Bureau of Land Management land. It is the largest of the proposed projects. 

   Freeman of Pacific Power said the generating power of the project, estimated to be 1,144 megawatts, would produce about four times the power generated by PacifiCorp’s Klamath River project. 

   Abert Rim and Summer Lake 

   Two pumped storage projects in Lake County were proposed by the same company, NT Hydro. 

   Developer Ted Sorenson said he was not familiar with the area before submitting the permits, and both projects got stalled early on. 

   “Initially what we wanted to do was find out if the projects were acceptable on a local community and environmental basis,” he said. 

   Sorenson’s Abert Rim project cannot be completed because Abert Rim is a wilderness study area. 

   Sorenson said although the reservoirs can be configured to be outside the wilderness study area, barring an act of Congress, there’s nothing that can be done. 

   “Why study it if it’s a wilderness study area?” he said. 

   The other project also ran into problems. 

   Summer Lake, although identified as a lake on maps, is seasonally dry. Additionally, it is an alkali lake, meaning when its water evaporates, it leaves naturally occurring salts that have base-like properties. 

   “It shows it’s a lake on the map,” Sorenson said. “We’ve learned many years it dries up and turns into a dust bowl. We have to find a different way or drop it.” 

   If Sorenson continues to study the project, it will be without using any of the water intermittently contained in Summer Lake. 

   “We’re not looking for a fight,” he said. “We’ll just drop them and move on.” 

   Sorenson said Klamath and Lake counties are attractive for these kinds of projects because of the physical characteristics of the land. 

   “You have some excellent sites in Oregon from a physical point of view,” he said. “In a very short distance you have a great deal of elevation change, the higher the better. And you have some natural basins of water.”
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