By Phil Ferolito
YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakama Nation is officially in the power generating business with the recent revival of a hydroelectric generator in the Wapato Irrigation Project.
The electricity it generates will eventually be used to power homes on the 1.2-million-acre reservation.
With the current hydroelectric system nearly tapped out in the Northwest, the tribe has been looking, for about five years, at its own wind, water and wood fuel to generate power.
The long-term plan is to revive all three generators in the irrigation project and add another three to generate about 8 megawatts, enough to power about 6,000 homes, said Ray Wiseman, manager of the tribe’s utility, Yakama Power.
Tribal officials will unveil the refurbished generator during a private gathering Aug. 11.
The overhauled generator at pumphouse No. 2 near Harrah will produce up to 2.5 megawatts, and has been running the past week at about a fifth of its capacity for testing, Wiseman said.
“It’s practically brand new,” he said. “There’s hardly any original parts in there. We’ve put quite a bit of funds into this one to get it rebuilt.”
For the past five years, Yakama Power has worked on a plan to revive the generators in the ailing 145,000-acre irrigation project, which is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Last year, the BIA agreed to let the tribe have the generators that date back to the 1950s and once powered irrigation pumps.
Not only will the generators help power the reservation, but also plow money back into the irrigation project, which is mired in about $200 million in deferred maintenance.
Recently, the tribe secured a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy to put three more generators in the irrigation project, he said. Also, the tribe recently received a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Commerce to conduct a feasibility study of a biomass plant that would use timber waste to generate power.
Currently, Yakama Power has supplied the tribe’s casino, government buildings and a retirement home with power it buys from the Bonneville Power Administration.
* Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.