Goldendale Energy Project May Bring Jobs

September 18, 2018

California has an energy challenge, and the solution could create more than a hundred long-term jobs in the Mid-Columbia region, with Columbia Gorge Community College well-positioned to provide workforce training.

The challenge: California has an ambitious goal of generating 100 percent of its energy requirements through renewable resources by the year 2045. Unfortunately, much of that energy currently comes from solar power generation, which ends as soon as the sun sets – right when household energy demands are highest.

One part of the solution: Store the energy produced by Oregon and Washington wind farms when this electricity would otherwise be lost to the system and sell it to California when the energy is most needed there. Currently, wind farm operators rely on Columbia River reservoirs to store energy, but reservoir capacity is limited. That would change should Klickitat Public Utility District and its partners succeed in building a “pumped storage” energy project near Goldendale.

Pumped storage is a proven technology to reserve and produce energy upon demand. When surplus energy is available, water is pumped uphill to an artificial reservoir, which acts as a large battery. When energy is needed, the water flows through a penstock to a generator downhill, producing electricity.

The trick in making this work isn’t the technology, which is well-tested. The key is in the economics: Can the power generated be sold at a profit, once costs of producing it are taken into account?

That’s where the California energy market, with its vast appetite for power, could make the difference. So far, feasibility studies support the concept behind the “Goldendale Energy Storage Project,” and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a preliminary permit this past March. The system would require two reservoirs located more than 2,000 feet above the Columbia River, north of the former Goldendale Aluminum plant at John Day Dam. The turbine would be located close to river level, on the former aluminum company site itself. Buried penstocks would connect the reservoirs with the turbine. As a “closed loop” system, the project would require only enough water to fill the two reservoirs and replace a minimal amount of water lost to subsequent evaporation.

Private development partners exploring the project with Klickitat PUD are National Grid and Rye Development LLC. The $2 billion project would store the equivalent of 14,745 megawatts of power, more than twice the combined capacity of Oregon and Washington wind farms. Within a matter of minutes, it would produce up to 1,200 megawatts on demand, sending this to California by way of nearby transmission lines already in place. Developers estimate the project would produce 114 permanent jobs.

With its Electro-Mechanical Technology (EM-Tech) program, Columbia Gorge Community College is following the project closely, participating in a site visit this past spring together with local, state and Congressional leaders and project developers. The EM-Tech program has its origins in training for hydroelectric dam operators in the 1990s, and then evolved to prepare wind technicians beginning in 2006. Today, the program prepares students for family-wage careers in diverse industries throughout the region.