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Klickitat PUD proposes $2.5 billion power plant under new law

YAKIMA, Wash. – A proposed change in state law would open the way for an ambitious $2.5 billion plan to create one of the region’s larger power generating plants.

The plan being touted by Klickitat PUD would use surplus wind power to pump water uphill and hold it for release later to generate power when it’s needed.

“I think the need exists and the timing is right for this project,” Randy Knowles, chairman of the 11,000-customer PUD board, said in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Knowles said the utility is looking for financial partners for the project and hopes to start construction in two years.

At 1,200 megawatts, the proposed plant would be the sixth or seventh largest power generating facility on the Columbia River, Knowles said. A 1,200-megawatt plan could supply power to more than 360,000 households.

The proposal got a boost from Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, who sponsored a bill changing an 81-year-old state law governing public utility districts

That bill passed both chambers unanimously. The measure awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature.

The change, specifically crafted to fit the utility’s needs, allows utility districts along the Columbia River to sell water rights to a privately owned utility to generate electricity.

Klickitat PUD owns the water right from the former Goldendale aluminum plant, located east of the junction of U.S. Highway 97 and Highway 14, south of Goldendale. The pump storage facility will be built on the site of the old plant, Knowles said.

A pump storage plant generates electricity by moving water between an upper and lower reservoir. Electricity in off-peak periods is used to pump water into the upper reservoir. The water is released at peak usage times when electricity is in higher demand.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power from dams along the Columbia River, is looking at pump storage as a way to integrate the increased power generated by wind farms into the region’s power grid.

Michael Milstein, a BPA spokesman, said pump storage facilities are like a battery in your car.

“It gives you the ability to store that energy and make use of it when people need the power,” he said. “We are looking at a number of opportunities.”

Knowles said the utility sees the project as more of a facility to integrate wind power into the transmission system.

BPA has struggled with the variability of the increased wind power capacity. The agency must keep hydroelectric generation capacity in reserve to avoid interruptions when the wind dies down and wind power production slumps. The agency ordered wind farms to shut down in 2011 when power was in surplus, a move federal regulators said late last year discriminated against wind farms.

The agency this week released a proposed plan to share the cost during times of oversupply.

The only pump storage facility in the state is at Banks Lake near Grand Coulee Dam, where water is stored for irrigation in the Columbia Basin Project.