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Klickitat County wind-water power project on Columbia River moving forward

GOLDENDALE, Wash. – A proposed $2.5 billion renewable energy project on the Columbia River in Klickitat County may yet be developed.

The concept of building large reservoirs and a hydroelectric generating facility to take advantage of the region’s variable wind power has been around nearly a decade, but has struggled to find financial backing.

The project was put on hold in late 2015 after federal regulators denied Klickitat County PUD’s request to renew its preliminary permit a third time, saying it had been given ample time to study the project.

But earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new preliminary permit to energy generation and storage company Rye Development and international energy company National Grid, which are working with the PUD.

“They’re extraordinarily well-qualified to do this,” said Brian Skeahan, project coordinator for the PUD. “The combination of Rye Development’s experience in the U.S. and National Grid’s experience in Europe, where pumped storage is more common, makes them well-suited to do this.”

Under earlier proposals, when excess electricity is being generated by the region’s wind turbines, it would be used to pump water from a lower reservoir to two upper reservoirs. When the wind isn’t blowing or there’s otherwise demand for power, water would be released from the upper reservoir through a generating plant to the lower reservoir.

Each would be about 165 feet deep, contained by gravel banks and lined with concrete, with a footprint of 100 acres for the lower pond and 46 and 67 acres for the upper reservoirs.

Earlier federal permits gave the PUD exclusive rights to study and develop the project with the goal of applying for a license. It first received a three-year preliminary permit in 2009, and an extension was granted in 2012. But when a third application was made, it was rejected by the federal agency, which said it would “constitute site banking.”

The latest permit, issued in March, reflects the entry of the two new potential backers, according to the commission.

A preliminary permit gives the developers the ability to study the site and decide whether they want to pursue development. It doesn’t mean construction can proceed but the permit gives the applicant priority, meaning no one else can begin developing the site while they hold the permit.

If they decide to pursue development, they’ll need to apply for a license.

National Grid supplies energy to more than 20 million people, with networks in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company also operates systems in Great Britain.

Rye Development’s portfolio includes more than 20 hydropower projects across the U.S. and an energy storage project in Oregon.

Stakeholders, including representatives for the new developers, will be meeting May 15 for a presentation, discussion and tour of the proposed site.