Swan Lake hydro project enters new phase

Public comment, environmental analysis to commence

Herald and News

A long-discussed hydro-electric project in Klamath County has moved one step closer to fruition, as environmental analysis and a comment period have begun for the proposed Swan Lake North pumped-storage plant.

The project has been in development since 2014, but last March exchanged hands in an acquisition by Rye Development and GridAmerica from EDF Renewable Energy.

With Rye, operating as New Hydro LLC, and GridAmerica, a subsidiary of British Utility National Grid, now leading the project, it entered the environmental analysis and comment solicitation phase as of last Wednesday, Dec. 20, on the original 2015 license application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The project is estimated to be able to power up to 600,000 homes, or 1,187 gigawatt-hours annually, at an estimated cost of $2 billion to complete. The proposed site of the plant rests on 730 acres of federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Reclamation as well as state and private lands, approximately 11 miles northeast of Klamath Falls.

The Swan Lake hydro project would consist of two reservoirs connected via tunnels, utilizing a pumping station and gravity-fed water to turn turbines in a powerhouse outside the lower reservoir.

According to FERC documentation, the upper-reservoir would be a 7,792 foot-long, 58 foot-high embankment formed with asphalt and lined with a geomembrane, creating a surface area of 64.21 acres and water storage capacity of 2,568 acre-feet.

The lower-reservoir would be 8,003 feet long and 65 feet high with similar materials and storage capacity, at an elevation of approximately 1,500 feet lower than the upper-reservoir. Both reservoirs would include spillways at the crest of each embankment for drainage purposes. The two reservoirs would be connected by three pipes approximately 14 feet in diameter and 9,600 feet long leading to a powerhouse building containing three 131.1megawatt reversible pump-turbine units.

Additionally, the project requires the construction of a substation, access road, support facilities and 33 miles of transmission lines to connect to the Malin substation on Pacificorp’s system.

Critics of the proposed project have raised concerns about repercussions of high-voltage power lines, property value losses, environmental impacts, cultural resources, and its impact on the lives of those who live in proximity to the facility.

The closed-loop water system would be initially filled with groundwater and does not connect to any existing surface body of water. Any additional water to be added to the system due to evaporation would be injected into the system via local groundwater agricultural pumping systems in the lower-reservoir.

As a closed-loop system, water is pumped to the upper-reservoir from the lower-reservoir when energy needs to be stored for later production, while water flows from the upper to lower reservoir turning the reversible turbines when energy needs to be created. This allows energy to be created during peak operating hours when electrical grid demand and subsequent energy costs are at their highest, and stored for later production during energy-demand lulls.

The licensing process for a project takes around three years to complete, and filling the two reservoirs to begin energy production is expected to take two years. Initial estimates placed the pumped storage hydro plant to come online by 2020, but with transfers of ownership and licensing procedures construction is now expected to begin in 2019 and operations commencing in 2023.

Once active, the project will be able to provide power well beyond Klamath County’s borders, adding a boost to energy production across a multi-state grid.

Swan Lake Holdings LLC, the company formed as the joint collaboration by Rye and GridAmerica, is the latest to tackle the massive project after preliminary FERC permits were first filed in May 2009 following initial planning by Symbiotics LLC, which later became Riverbank Power.

Along with developer enXco — owned by EDF Renewables’ parent company EDF Energies Nouvelles — a partnership was announced in 2012 to develop pumped-storage facilities in North America including the Swan Lake project.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is expected by August, with a comment period to be completed by October. A final EIS is expected by December, which coincides with the deadline for filing comments, recommendations, agency terms and conditions for the project.

According to an Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis by ECONorthwest, the hydro project will create 3,363 equivalent-jobs through its development and construction, and provide over 30 jobs in its operations. The plan is expected to operate for 45 years, providing a $2.1 million increase annually in county tax revenue.

Kurt Liedtke
Staff Reporter