Need for electricity also makes county a good windpower candidate, company’s owner says
By Randy Luvaas
Yakima Valley Business Times
California’s thirst for Northwest electrical power just keeps growing.
A Goldendale family corporation has sold its hydroelectric plant at Rimrock Dam to Southern California Public Power Authority, a consortium representing about a dozen cities in that state.
The company would not reveal the purchase price, but a source familiar with the deal indicated it was perhaps double the $20 million spent earlier to create the plant.
Tieton Hydropower LLC, the entity that established the power producing facility, has sold electricity to SCPPA for the past year or so, said spokesman Ty Ross.
His family business, Ross Management, started generating electricity at the Tieton River plant in 2006. Originally it sold the power to Eugene, Ore., but ended that contract.
“We paid to get out of that so we could start selling to California at a better price,” Ross said.
Now the California group will be producing its own electricity at the 300-foot-high earthen dam, which was built in the early 20th century to create Rimrock Lake for water storage.
Yakima attorney Jamie Carmody, one of many lawyers involved in the purchase deal, called it “a remarkable transaction.”
“It was bigger and more complex than any deal I’ve seen in all my years of practice,” he said. “You had about 20 attorneys involved.”
It’s part of a recent energy-shifting trend, he noted.
“Southern California utilities are up here in Washington buying up our electrical-generating facilities that are renewable – whether it’s little dams or wind power. They’re aggressively buying our power and taking it to Southern California.”
Ross said the Yakima law firm Velkikanje Halverson “did a wonderful job making this happen in a fairly short time frame. And there were other Yakima people involved, too.
“The Yakima-Tieton Irrigation District has been a big supporter of this project all along. They spend a lot of time working with us to get this contract with California, then to allow California to buy us out. There were a lot of local ranchers and irrigators who were extremely helpful to make it all come together.”
It was the first hydro project for the family company, he said, but it may not be the last.
“We’re actually looking for other hydro projects to do. If anyone has any we’d be interested in talking.”
The Tieton project was one of a very few privately owned hydro plants in the United States of that size, he noted.
“I was shocked to learn that. There are a lot of little bitty ones around the country but hardly any as big as ours.”
It can about after years of haggling with various state, federal and local agencies and the Yakama Nation, overcoming a variety of endangered species and environmental concerns before getting approved.
Yakima Tieton Irrigation, which held the original power-producing license, eventually transferred that license to an Idaho company, which then was bought by Ross Management in 2004.
It was quite a leap for the Goldendale firm, which started out in construction and over time got involved in solid waste, wind power, hydroelectric projection and is now mainly involved in mini-storage units and apartments, Ross said.
“We were very involved with wind power, but we recently sold out of all of those.”
Wind Power Potential
The sky seems to be the limit for wind power these days, he indicated – even in Yakima County, which has not cashed in on the renewable energy source the way its neighbors to the north and south have done.
There are huge wind-power farms in both Klickitat and Kittitas counties, but none here. Ross thinks, he knows why.
“If Yakima County were to change a few of their rules and regulations, there are several projects that probably would move forward very quickly,” he said.
“If your planning department and county commissioners chose to change some rules slightly to match the rules in Klickitat County, that could happen. It would probably amount to an enormous amount of tax revenue for the county.”
His own company was involved with ANEXCO, a subsidiary of the giant French power company EDFEN.
“They have projects around Ellensburg and would very much like to build in Yakima County,” Ross said. “They have the land and have discussed it at length.”
He said if Yakima County could simplify and speedup its permit process for such facilities, wind power could become a viable local industry.
“You have some good wind land available, but it’s all being held up. There is a project in the Sunnyside area that is also being held up by federal agencies.”
“From what I’ve heard the (county) commissioners could be amenable to this kind of thing, but they ned to be approached. If you take some examples from the counties around you it could happen. They just need to make a few changes.”
And such projects can be lucrative, he noted.
A wind project around Goldendale, developed by a California group, has received about $19.4 million in federal stimulus funds. The developer expects about $170 million total in federal grants to help with the $1 billion project.
SCPPA, the group that just bought the Tieton hydro station, has purchased a 20-year block of electrical power from that wind facility using a $500 million bond issuance.
The new wind plant is expected to create power for some 250,000 homes in California.
The developer says its project has brought 300 construction jobs and permanent positions to the area, while also creating new roads and generating money through land leases for wind turbines.