PSE powerhouse will aid salmon, boost hydropower

Bellevue, Wash., December 17, 2010 — Puget Sound Energy today began constructing a new powerhouse on northwest Washington’s Baker River to aid salmon runs while boosting the utility’s output of renewable hydroelectricity.

PCL Construction Services, of Seattle, is the project’s general contractor. Creating about 40 construction jobs, the project will provide an economic boost in the Concrete, Wash., area where PSE‘s Lower Baker Dam is located.

The 30-MW power plant is the latest in a series of major fish-enhancement initiatives undertaken by PSE as part of its 50-year federal operating license for the Baker River Hydroelectric Project.

Among other things, the 2008 license requires a minimum downstream flow from PSE’s Lower Baker Dam of at least 1,000 cubic feet per second. The project’s previous license, issued in 1956, required flows of about 80 cubic feet per second to support upstream fish-passage facilities.

“With this new power plant, we’re not only improving river flows for Puget Sound salmon, but we’re increasing our capacity to generate renewable hydropower for the region and providing an economic boost to the local economy,” said PSE government and community relations manager Ray Trzynka. “It’s a win for the environment, for our local communities and for our customers.”

Because the new powerhouse is creating an additional source of renewable energy, federal incentives could reduce the facility’s projected $75 million construction cost to PSE customers by up to 30 percent. Also, the new plant’s output will count toward PSE compliance with Washington’s renewable-energy standard, which requires the state’s utilities to secure 15 percent of their power supply from renewable sources by 2020.

Besides increasing the minimum downstream flows passing through Lower Baker Dam, the new powerhouse’s 30-MW turbine will reduce the speed, or “ramping rate,” at which PSE is able to take its power-generating operation offline. A slower ramping rate lessens the chances of juvenile salmon becoming stranded in side channels along the river as downstream water levels rise or fall. Resource agencies say the increase in downstream flows and a slower ramping rate will help salmon migration and spawning.

The bigger, 79-MW turbine in PSE’s existing Lower Baker Dam powerhouse cannot operate efficiently under the new license’s required flow regimes. Instead of spilling water to meet the new requirements, Trzynka noted, PSE opted to build a second Lower Baker powerhouse immediately downriver that can take advantage of the flow directives in the new license.

The new powerhouse, scheduled for completion in late 2013, will raise the power capacity of PSE’s two Baker River dams from today’s 170 MW to 200 MW, enough peak output to serve 150,000 households.

PSE has been collaborating with federal and state resource agencies and local Native American tribes for more than 20 years on a salmon-recovery plan for salmon in the Baker and Skagit river basins. The effort has accelerated dramatically under PSE’s new Baker River Hydroelectric Project license.

Lower Baker Dam, completed in 1925, is a 285-foot-high concrete structure with 79 MWs of power-generating capacity. The 312-foot-high Upper Baker Dam, completed in 1959, has a generating capacity of 91 MW.

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