Senate bill package could help ease new hydropower project approval


Last updated 3/4/2020 at 10:23am

An illustration from a Columbia Basin Hydropower Powerpoint presentation shows the path of proposed pipes under the city of Grand Coulee, incorporating a new underground power plant with a 500-megawatt capacity. The 35-foot diameter penstocks would be 300 feet underground.

A potential new, big hydro-electric project for the Coulee area, could be more likely to happen sooner than later if legislation being considered by the Senate in Washington D.C. passes.

The $1.4 billion Banks Lake Pump Storage Project, proposed by Columbia Basin Hydropower, would bring in an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 workers to build a gravity-fed, pumped-storage system that would drain water from Banks Lake back down to Lake Roosevelt, turning generators in the process, and later pump the water back up to Banks Lake.

Currently, the project would be under joint jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but if legislation being considered this week by the Senate passes, FERC would no longer be in the picture, and CBH would then apply to the Bureau for a "Lease of Power Privilege."

Sen. Maria Cantwell describes the 555-page "American Energy Innovation Act" as a "bipartisan comprehensive energy modernization bill," which includes five of Cantwell's bills that focus on "modernizing the U.S. electricity grid, protecting the grid from cyber attacks, making our nation's buildings smarter and more efficient, creating new clean energy jobs, and facilitating a significant Eastern Washington energy storage project."

Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

The gravity-fed system would provide 500 megawatts total.

Section 1302 of the proposed act, titled "Bureau of Reclamation Pumped Storage Hydropower Development," is described as something that would "pave the way for a large new pumped storage project in Eastern Washington, which could provide a critical new source of carbon-free capacity for the Pacific Northwest power grid. The project would help integrate intermittent renewable sources and offset retiring coal-fired generation. Specifically, the provision clarifies that the Banks Lake project only needs to work through the Bureau of Reclamation's permitting process and not also that of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."

The American Energy Innovation Act is expected to be voted on this week or next week, according to Ben Marvin-Vanderryn, Cantwell's press secretary.

The project would put one or two penstocks (pipes) up to 35 feet in diameter 300 feet underground between the North Dam area on Banks Lake and Lake Roosevelt underneath the city of Grand Coulee.

Former manager of project development at CBH Tim Culbertson, now retired, told The Star in November that engineering and planning would likely take another two years, with ground possibly being broken in 2022 and the project finishing in 2026.

Other problems that would need to be solved include where to house the 1,000-1,500 workers to build the project, 100-150 permanent workers and their families, and where to put the dirt dug out for the tunnels.


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