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NUID explores potential for power

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The proposed power facility at Wickiup Dam, with a constructed building on the right, and artist's rendering of a second building on the left.Where there is flowing water, there is a potential for hydropower, and the canals of North Unit Irrigation District are no exception.

Over the past several years, NUID has been working to develop a few projects, and is eyeing many more.

“We have dozens of potential sites that could be developed by the district or private developers,” said NUID Manager Mike Britton.

The water district has 65 miles of main canal, and 235 miles of sublateral ditches that carry irrigation water to growers.

Current projects include a 7.5 megawatt facility on the dam at Wickiup Reservoir, which could provide power to approximately 3,500 homes. It would cost an estimated $16-18 million to build.

Simbiotics, a private developer, which is part of Riverbank Power, initiated the process in 2007, and a final licensing application was filed in March 2011. Hydro plants must be approved by several regulatory agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Unfortunately, Britton said, “The process outlived the developer, which went bankrupt.”

“It would have been a significant revenue source for the district, and still has the potential to be if we can find someone with deep enough pockets to make it happen,” he added.

Under construction is the Mile 45 Project, near Bear and Holly drives, which was initiated by private developer Earth Designs of Bend in 2009. “They broke ground in December 2013, and hope to have it up and running this irrigation season,” Britton said.

The $12 million Mile 45 Project is the only one constructed outside of the canals. It diverts water into an intake pipe that flows to a powerhouse, then back to the canal. The pipe runs close to the canal, but has a steeper 100-foot drop, where the power is generated. It will be able to generate 3 MW of power.

On a smaller scale, is the .8 MW, Monroe Drop Project, a low head hydrogenating system. In a low-head system, a drop in elevation of as little as 5-30 feet can be used to generate electricity, with the water running through very small units.

Located on Monroe Drive, near Juniper Butte, the private company Natel Energy hopes to break ground on the Monroe Drop Project soon.

“Low-head hydro is where the bulk of our opportunities exist. The district has several of these,” Britton said, adding, “The challenge is that you have to run a powerline (from the generator) back to the electrical grid. It’s about 3,000 feet away on the Monroe project, but in other areas is 3-5 miles, so we can’t make it work.”

Odd circumstances led to a study of putting a hydro project on the 100-year-old North Canal Dam in Bend.

A person on vacation in Bend noticed the dam and laid claim to the site, intending to use it for hydropower.

NUID also filed a claim, and because it is a municipality, was given preference. “Our lifeline is that dam,” Britton said, noting they certainly didn’t want anyone else controlling it.

The irrigation district did do a feasibility study on the dam, but a hydro project there was deemed unfeasible.

Britton explained why NUID is letting private companies develop the hydro projects.

“These are expensive projects and the district doesn’t want to assume that risk or debt. We find developers who are interested and work out agreements. They construct, own, operate and maintain the project, and NUID receives revenue on the generation. Then in 15-20 years, the project reverts to the district.”

The most difficult part is all the regulatory hurdles a developer must meet before they can start a project, Britton said, mentioning the Bureau of Reclamation, National Grassland, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, FERC, county, and state regulations that might apply.




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