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PUD engages McMillen as project engineer

— Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District took another big step toward adding a second five megawatt hydropower plant, the Freedom Project, on The Dalles Dam fishway.

The PUD’s board of directors authorized the general manager to negotiate with McMillen, LLC, for Freedom Project engineering services. An evaluation committee, including PUD officials and representatives of project manager UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems), reviewed candidate companies for the work.

“Their proposal was outstanding,” said Kurt Conger, director of power supply and transmission for the PUD. “The evaluation committee was most impressed with their entire package.”

The committee met with McMillen chief engineer Mort McMillen on March 25 to discuss the project scope, which will include preliminary engineering, final engineering, construction and commissioning activities.

For task scheduling purposes, the PUD also set Sept. 30, 2017, as the latest date for commercial operation. The date could change as the project moves along, but at present it will coincide with the end of Bonneville Power Administration’s rate period and could be tapped to serve PUD growth needs, or for other purposes deemed in the best interest of the PUD, said Paul Titus, PUD assistant manager and director of engineering.

Costs for preliminary design work are estimated at no more than $575,000. McMillen will bill based on actual costs and labor, Conger noted. Preliminary engineering is the first 30 percent of design required to negotiate a memorandum of agreement with the Corps of Engineers, which owns The Dalles Dam, and to submit a request for application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The engineers will analyze the hydraulics of the project, evaluating flow and power production estimates to look at the economics of the project.

PUD Director Milt Skov particularly asked about opportunities in the timeline to review feasibility of the project. The utility’s last effort to develop more of its own hydropower centered on reviving generation at White River Falls. It was scrubbed in March 2011 after a year of investigation when the project consultant deemed it was not economical.

The first of the evaluation points is after hydraulic analysis and site surveys to validate flow and power production estimates. The second is after project configuration, when accurate cost estimates can be performed. The third is prior to final engineering, when licensing, permitting and Corps project criteria are known.

Final engineering begins after these chances to rethink.

“Final engineering, basically, is when a green light to construct the project has been given by all the authorities,” Conger explained. “Then the engineer has to take the 30 percent designs and bring them rapidly to 90 to 100 percent.”

Environmental work is also under way on the project and opportunities for stakeholder comment are expected to occur this summer. Stakeholders include the Corps, fisheries interests, the various tribes and Bonneville Power Administration, which markets hydropower from the Corps dams.

Titus was hopeful the consultations and meetings could wrap up by Sept. 1, but the PUD’s attorney was less optimistic.

“I don’t think we will necessarily have an answer by Sept. 1,” said Jim Foster. “There are a number of studies that need to be done.” Also, the project will result in an “infinitesimal” decline in power generation from the Corps’ main turbines, which might result in some comment from Bonneville, Foster added.

In addition to the $575,000 contract with McMillan, the PUD has about $450,000 budgeted for environmental work, he noted.

Foster also had strong praise for McMillen.

“Certainly not on the other two projects have we had this kind of a professional approach,” he said.

“They were very impressive,” Titus added.

The PUD isn’t starting entirely from scratch on the Freedom Project. They have the experience of developing two prior small hydropower projects on major Columbia River Dams. Their first project at The Dalles Dam is the general template for the Freedom Project. It has been operating for more than 20 years and PGE recently contracted to purchase its power output. The PUD also shares power with Klickitat County PUD on a project at McNary Dam.

One of the advantages of the small projects is that they attract fish to the dam’s fishway — the fish thoroughfare through the dam — and don’t increase the dissolved gases that are dangerous to young migratory fish. As a result, when generation is limited during the spring on the main dam to limit gases and aid migration, the fishway projects can continue to operate, noted Bob Guidinger, the PUD’s hydropower manager.

As Bonneville Power Administration’s power output has moved closer and closer to capacity, the PUD’s board of directors has continued to steer the utility toward its own, independent electricity generation plants. The PUD still obtains most of its power from Bonneville, but Conger noted that this project should come online about the time that the PUD will need to tap into other power sources to meet its system growth needs.

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