Albany hydroelectric plant close to producing power again
By Hasso Hering
After years of planning and construction, Albany’s old/new hydropower plant is about to resume production.
It is old because, according to the city, Albany’s history with hydropower goes all the way back to 1888. It’s new because it sports a brand new generator, built in China and installed in the cavernous powerhouse at the Vine Street water treatment plant.
The plant produces power from the force of water as it plunges 36 feet from the end of the Santiam Canal to the Calapooia River below, driving a turbine about one-third of the way down.
The turbine and generator were quiet on Wednesday, when the Democrat-Herald toured the installation with Peter Harr, the city engineer in charge of the project.
During testing since October, the generator has produced some 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. When it starts running on a regular basis, probably by mid-January, it will produce enough power for 500-700 typical houses.
The installation has cost about $2.2 million all told. Harr said it will have a positive cash flow from day one, and according to one estimate it should have paid for itself in seven to eight years.
The firm of C.F. Malm, Seattle, designed and had the machine built under a $1.6 million contract with the city. The city may also have Malm take care of operation and maintenance under a new contract yet to be worked out.
Startup is awaiting enlargement of a trash rack, newly made by a California company, to keep debris flowing down the canal out of the turbine.
Old electrical gauges, long disconnected, still line one wall of the powerhouse. The city plans to keep them for the sake of history. Also staying is one of the two original generators, unused for a generation or longer.
It was the other generator that Pacific Power and then the city had been using until it was shut down in the early 1990s. That one has now been replaced by the new machine.
The new one was made in China because, Harr said, no U.S. manufacturer still makes this kind. From the outside the new generator and the turbine look remarkably like the adjacent and dormant Westinghouse and Francis specimens from the 1920s.
A plate on the wall lists the maker as the Wuhan Changyuan Waterpower Manufacturing Co., part of the Chang Jiang Energy Corp.
Specifications include a rated power of 500 kilowatts and a rated speed of 257 rpm.
Pacific Power will buy the output under a 15-year contract.
The city started proceedings to get a federal hydropower license in 1991 and got it in 1998. At first the project’s economics looked shaky. They improved when the Energy Trust of Oregon in 2003 contributed a $475,000 grant. In 2008 Pacific Power added $25,000 from its Blue Sky program.
Albany is planning a ceremony to dedicate the new machines on Feb. 13.