Ongoing Drought in Northwest Threatens Hydropower Production

March 30, 2005

The Northwest experienced its third dry winter in a row this year, leading the Bonneville Power Administration, regional utilities, and public interest groups to call for Northwest consumers to conserve energy. Barring unscheduled plant outages or other unforeseen circumstances, the region's utilities expect to have enough electrical generating capability to meet demand, but the hydropower shortage could drive up electricity rates, the groups warned. See the BPA press release.

Photo of the advanced hydropower turbine suspended from a crane in a hydropower turbine hall.

The six-bladed hydropower turbine as it was about to be lowered into place on the Wanapum Dam.
Credit: Grant County PUD

The low water conditions should provide an interesting test of a "fish friendly" hydropower turbine, now producing power for the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) at the Wanapum Dam, on the Columbia River in Washington State. The state-of-the-art turbine is designed to increase the survival rate of migratory fish while increasing efficiency and power output. The DOE-funded test is already showing promise: In early February, testing showed a 14 percent increase in power output and a 3 percent increase in efficiency. Fish passage data are not available yet. See the Grant County PUD press release (PDF 109 KB). Download Acrobat Reader.

One company is working to bring new hydropower capacity to the Northwest, through low-impact installations primarily located at existing federal dams. Symbiotics, LLC was established in 2001 and has filed 250 applications for preliminary hydropower permits with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Of those, 22 projects are currently active, and 4 have reached the stage of applying for a final license. Those projects include a 10-megawatt installation near Medford, Oregon; an 8.3-megawatt system east of Cottage Grove, Oregon; a 6.8-megawatt system near Prineville, Oregon; and a 3.3-megawatt system northeast of St. Anthony, Idaho. See the Symbiotics Web site.