By Kate Ramsayer
The North Canal Dam, on Bend’s north side, is the latest Central Oregon dam to attract interest from a company wanting to build a small hydropower facility.
Sierra Energy Co. has filed a preliminary permit application with a federal agency to install a powerhouse and two turbines at the based of the dam, which could generate about 1.8 megawatts of power – a fraction of 1 percent of what the Pelton Round Butte project north of madras can produce. The dam, located just to the west of Division Street and south of The Riverhouse, is used by three irrigation districts to divert water from the Deschutes River.
That easily accessible location – near existing power lines that the company could easily tie into – is one of the appealing features of the site, said Brad Reeves, owner of sierra Energy, based in Auburn, CA. The facility would also be tied to an existing dam that has a known quantity of water flowing over it, he noted, so developers will now how much power they can generate.
"It’s just a good location,” Reeves said, ”I don’t know why somebody hasn’t stepped up to the plate and built this thing.”
His company recently filed a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Council, which would give Sierra Energy first dibs to study the area and develop a more detailed application for a small hydropower plant, without another company coming in and filing plans to build a facility.
The federal agency is currently taking comments on the project.
A different company, Symbiotics, has proposed to build a small hydropower facility at the base Wickiup Dam, while Portland General Electric has expressed interest in a small plant at the base of Bowman Dam.
Sierra Energy’s hydro facility would probably cost in the $5 million range, Reeves said. And the company plans to apply for a program offered by the Energy Trust of Oregon, which would help pay for some of the feasibility studies, he said. As a condition of that program, if a hydro facility is built the power would be sold to an Oregon company like Pacific Power he said.
There would be other agreements to work out as well, said Steve Johnson, Central Oregon Irrigation District manager. The district owns the land the facility would be built on, he said, and the project would not be allowed to interfere with the irrigation districts’ operations – Swalley and North Unit irrigation districts also divert water from the dam.
”There’s a whole bunch of things that come into play that will have to be worked out,” he said, noting that there are many landowners in the area as well. "It’s not the easiest place to try to do something.”
Johnson and Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation District manager, both noted that even though Sierra Energy Co. filed a preliminary permit application, it doesn’t mean that the project will move forward – the company could just be basically reserving the site in case it turns out to be a feasible area for a plant.
"Whether they intend to build a facility, who knows?” Britton said.