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Championing micro-hydro development

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The Latest
Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Peter Beland

The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 629) was introduced last week by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). The legislation could help the development of conduit hydropower throughout the state. Conduits, or canals and other man made structures that transport water for municipal, agricultural or industrial purposes but not for hydroelectric power production, are found throughout the state and represent an untapped power source to many.

Jed Jorgenson of the Oregon Energy Trust has been working for the past three years with water stakeholders connected with the networks of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to help micro-hydro power development. Though the energy trust can help qualified projects with initial costs, the number of projects that get off the ground is small in part because of high permitting fees. “A small project has to go through the same permitting as large project,” says Jorgenson. “The way it is now, it costs [at least] $20,000 to permit a 5-megawatt hydro project and $20,000 to permit a 5-kilowatt one.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts small-scale projects that could power ranches in the same category as larger projects.

If the legislation were enacted later this session, it would call for three regional stakeholder meetings throughout the country to discuss how to reduce permitting barriers and put conduit hydropower into its own category to exempt it from disproportionate regulation. Enterprise-based energy consulting firm Renewable Energy Solutions released a report last November stating that 19 conduits it studied in Wallowa County could produce one megawatt of energy, worth $244,000 annually.

Rural areas are not the only locations for conduit hydropower development. The water traveling through municipal pipes travels quickly and builds up pressure, energy that usually is released to make sure pipes don’t burst by pressure reduction valves. The City of Astoria is currently developing an urban conduit hydropower system to capture 37 kilowatts of energy through turbines in the city’s pipes. The energy produced would offset the annual electricity cost to run the city’s wastewater treatment center.

Astoria special projects consultant Mike Morgan is happy that project should be running by early fall, but laments that “We’re putting $25,000 [in FERC permitting fees] into a pre-existing pie. That seems excessive to me. Unless you’re sucking water out of a salmon stream, I think micro-hydro should be automatically exempt.”

Peter Beland is a contributing writer for Oregon Business.



John DeVoe
0 #1 Executive DirectorJohn DeVoe 2012-05-01 17:25:07
The problem is that many projects are "sucking water out of salmon streams" and the vast majority of historic irrigation and other diversions that now want to add micro hydro never followed laws requiring fish passage or bypass flows when the diversions were constructed. Now these projects want to add new revenue streams to water use by adding hydro without addressing past failures to provide fish passage or bypass flows at the diversions. Oregon should make sure that the addition of hydro to non compliant diversions triggers compliance with fish passage and bypass flow requirements rather than once again ignore the needs of the fish - and the law.
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0 #2 non-compliant diversions in OregonGuest 2013-07-26 18:15:52
Water rights holder-got water.

Please can you provide a list of the non-compliant diversions within Oregon. I'm not aware of any current diversions that have not been monitored by county Water Master,fish and wildlife and city water use authorities. I not found any diversions lacking fish screens or bypass flow channels. Got Water
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