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New hydroelectric dam to be first in county since ’80s

Its size and location upstream should limit its harm to salmon, the PUD says.

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By Bill Sheets
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Scott Spahr, a senior engineer with Snohomish County PUD, looks into a gorge where Youngs Creek flows into a waterfall. The waterfall acts as a natura...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Scott Spahr, a senior engineer with Snohomish County PUD, looks into a gorge where Youngs Creek flows into a waterfall. The waterfall acts as a natural barrier to salmon, the PUD says.

  • Snohomish County PUD workers prepare sections of pipe on a hillside that will carry water from a dam on Youngs Creek, south of Sultan, to a small hydr...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Snohomish County PUD workers prepare sections of pipe on a hillside that will carry water from a dam on Youngs Creek, south of Sultan, to a small hydroelectric plant.

  • Dan Bates / The Herald 
The small hydroelectric power plant at Youngs Creek, south of Sultan, appears well underway in the construction process Monday...

    Dan Bates / The Herald The small hydroelectric power plant at Youngs Creek, south of Sultan, appears well underway in the construction process Monday. The pipeline, bringing water into the turbines from above will come down the cleared pathway seen in the background.

SULTAN — The first dam to be built in Snohomish County in a quarter-century is planned to go up this summer.
The Snohomish County Public Utility District started work in February to build a powerhouse on Youngs Creek south of Sultan to take advantage of the small dam.
Building of the dam — only 12 feet tall and 65 feet across — is expected to start in a couple of months. The entire $30 million project is expected to generate enough power for between 2,000 and 6,000 homes. Completion is targeted for next spring.
Construction of large dams in the state screeched to a halt three decades ago as their effects on fish runs became clear. Smaller dams, or “microhydro” projects, can be built with minimal effect on the environment, proponents say. Some conservationists still disagree.
Officials with the PUD say the Youngs Creek project will help the utility become less dependent on outside power sources. Currently, the utility district buys about 92 percent of its energy from other agencies. In addition to the new dam, the PUD is studying tidal power, geothermal and more hydroelectric to reduce that percentage.
“It gives us greater control over our power generation,” spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.
The PUD already owns and operates two dams, one large and one small. The 640-foot-long, 263-foot-high Culmback Dam at Spada Lake produces enough energy to serve nearly 36,000 homes.
The dam was built in the 1960s and was expanded and paired with a new powerhouse in 1984 to form the Henry M. Jackson hydroelectric project.
In 2008, the PUD bought a tiny, 6-foot-tall dam and powerhouse on Woods Creek near Monroe from a private utility company for $1.1 million. It was built in 1982, Moore said.
The Youngs Creek project is financed with bonds. The project won’t have an immediate effect on ratepayers’ bills, but officials say in the long run it could help reduce rates by reducing the utility’s need to buy power from other sources.
“Owning more of your own assets will keep rates down over the long term,” said Kim Moore, the PUD’s assistant general manager for water and generation. “Once you own it, you pretty much own it forever.”
Six dams have been built in the state since the early 1980s, and they’re all small — roughly the size of Youngs Creek or smaller, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
With Puget Sound chinook salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, building large dams is out, said Scott Spahr, senior engineer for water resources and generation for the PUD.
The Youngs Creek project is fish-friendly, PUD officials say. The powerhouse is about 1½ miles upstream from a scenic waterfall on the creek. The waterfall is an impassable barrier for salmon. That means the dam is not expected to affect fish.
Eight government agencies — federal, state and local — and the Tulalip Indian Tribes signed off on the project, Spahr said.
Trout live in the waters where the dam is to be built. Some of the trout populations along the stretch already are separated from others by natural barriers and still thrive, so the dam is not expected to cause a problem, Spahr said.
The Youngs Creek project originally was planned and then shelved by Puget Sound Energy in the 1990s. The property was bought by a small private utility, which sold it to the PUD about a year and a half ago for $750,000, Spahr said.
The PUD’s project diverts less water from Youngs Creek than in Puget Sound Energy’s original plan, said Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes.
“It will help leave more habitat available for the trout compared to what was proposed in the 1990s,” he said.
Still, not everyone is convinced the project won’t affect the environment. State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said he’s against dams, period.
“I have concerns about any water impoundment for hydro,” McCoy said. “There are in-stream technologies that don’t do water impoundment.”
Two types of hydropower, one that uses paddle-wheel technology and another that employs parallel channels, are being studied in the United States. They already are being used in Canada and Europe, McCoy said.
The dam will create a quarter-acre pond. An underground pipeline will carry water alongside the creek down to the powerhouse, 3 miles downstream from the dam. There it will spin a turbine that drives a 7.5-megawatt generator, then return the water to the creek.
An 8.1-mile-long underground and overhead transmission line will connect the project to the Sultan substation.
The 920-foot drop in elevation between the dam and powerhouse will create more force than if the two structures were closer together, Spahr said.
The system likely will be shut down for part of the summer when the stream’s flow is low, he said. In the winter, when flows are high, it can operate to its capacity and create power for up to 6,000 homes.
“The district really needs the power in the winter,” Moore said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.



Story tags » SultanEnvironmental IssuesSalmonPUD

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