Feds approve PUD’s two small hydroelectricity projects

EVERETT — Federal energy regulators have given a green light to Snohomish County Public Utility District to build two small hydroelectric projects in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Work on the sites could start later this summer, followed by major construction next year, said Scott Spahr, a PUD manager who oversees all engineering work on the district’s energy generating facilities.

“In essence, we have all the permits to begin work,” he said.

The projects are estimated to cost a combined $52 million, and should be finished and generating electricity by 2017, he said.

During winter storms and spring months, the Calligan Creek and Hancock Creek projects will each create about 6 megawatts — enough energy for about 10,000 homes. They won’t produce energy during much of the summer, when the streams will be too low, according to the PUD’s license applications filed in 2013 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Hancock project is estimated to cost $28 million, while Calligan is expected to run $24 million. Both creeks flow into the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River near the I-90 corridor in east King County.

The projects are run-of-the-river hydroelectric facilities, meaning the river isn’t dammed. Instead, water is diverted through a pipe to generating turbines and back to the stream.

The peak amount of energy will be less than 1 percent of the PUD’s overall power load, Spahr said.

The amount of energy generation is not worth the environmental effects, critics say.

Several conservation groups commented on the projects during the FERC review process.

The PUD has not proven that these projects are necessary, said Rick McGuire, vice president of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society. The group advocates for conservation programs in the Cascades in Washington.

“All the good hydro sites have already been taken,” he said. These PUD hydro projects “are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

McGuire and other critics say the PUD’s generation estimates are best-case scenarios. The actual contribution will be smaller, and will come at the same time dams across the Pacific Northwest are churning out electricity.

“The PUD has not proven its case that these projects are needed,” he said. “There’s no electricity shortage.”

The district looked at sites from four counties — King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties — before settling on Calligan and Hancock. They were chosen, in part, because there would be low environmental effect, Spahr said.

The projects are among several small-scale hydroelectric facilities that the PUD has built or is developing. The district buys about 80 percent of its energy from the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs several dams on the Columbia River.

PUD-owned hydro facilities produce about 5 percent of the utility’s energy needs.

The district is developing small-scale hydro as part of its climate-change policy, which emphasizes using renewable resources. However, the projects will not be displacing any carbon-producing energy production.

Hydroelectric is not considered renewable under Washington’s renewable energy mandate, which voters passed in 2006. Initiative 937 requires utilities get at least 15 percent of their energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

The PUD is already meeting that benchmark, said Neil Neroutsos, a district spokesman.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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