Snohomish PUD and Our Conservation & Renewable Resources
By PUD General Manager Steve Klein
At Snohomish PUD, we are excited about the work we’re doing on energy efficiency and developing renewable power resources. Environmental and social justice stewardship principles guide our strategies and goals. It is important to us to represent the best interests of the community we serve, and we have strategically chosen to focus on being a world-class organization when it comes to the development of conservation and renewable energy. It is also our desire to develop these programs to the extent possible within our own service territory. By doing so, we can better determine and guide our own destiny and provide economic development and jobs within our own community -- as well as work with local educational institutions to inspire and educate the youth as to the benefits and opportunities in clean energy. We have additionally challenged ourselves to avoid the addition of fossil-fuel-based resources, including natural gas, even though the addition of variable production resources (such as wind) are driving other utilities in the Northwest to add substantially more gas plants.
When you look at Snohomish PUD’s resource portfolio, you will find a diverse mix of current and future power sources:
- wind generation (as a percentage of resources in our portfolio, it is more than any other Washington state utility);
- the most innovative and aggressive local-distributed, customer-focused solar program (Solar Express) in the Northwest;
- several local biomass/ cogeneration (both current and future);
- biogas – landfill gas;
- development of tidal energy (we could be installing the first utility-scale turbines in the United States in the year 2013);
- extensive study of the geothermal resource in Snohomish County, culminating in the drilling of five exploratory holes this past summer;
- potential purchase of a utility-scale solar project that will generate more power than our current portfolio of low-impact hydro projects;
- our conservation programs are second to none; this past year we exceeded our goals and captured more than our share of the region’s conservation goal; and
- our Energy Challenge Program asked our customers to reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent over a period of three years; in just the first year, PUD employees were successful in reducing our own facility consumption by 7 percent, which further demonstrated that we truly “walk the talk!”
In particular, I’d like to talk a little more on our small hydro projects. Our small portfolio of “low-impact” hydro projects are, in fact, low-impact because, unlike some other projects, our projects do not limit or block sediment transport, do not change the temperature, do not dry up stretches of the river, are above natural impassible barriers so as to not impact anadromous fish migration, and do not negatively impact water quality. We will also not even consider a site that has endangered species issues whether they be migratory or resident species (such as salmon or bull trout).
The facts of our low-impact hydro projects are as follows:
- Dam size: None of the small hydro intake facilities we are working on are huge in scope. Youngs Creek is 12’ high and about 65’ wide, and Woods Creek is only 5’ high and maybe 25’ across. Both Hancock and Calligan would have intakes similar to Youngs. Inundation area is less than a quarter-acre for Youngs, Hancock and Calligan.
- River flow: The powerhouse in a run-of-the river project is sized based on a statistical review of the basin hydrology. On the high end, the project is not sized to capture all of the high or peak flow events, and, because there is no reservoir, a significant portion of these flows bypass the project. This leaves the habitat formation and maintenance processes of sediment and wood transport largely intact. The diversions are designed to be overtopped several times annually, allowing sediment passage and channel formation processes. Conversely, on the low end of the hydrograph during summer, the project cannot operate at all because of the hydrology, and the water is simply passed downstream, often for several months. Run-of-the-river projects do not dry up rivers below the intake. In fact, much scientific study is involved to determine a minimum flow between the intake and powerhouse to support local fisheries, and these flows must be approved by various federal agencies.
- ESA listed fisheries: All of our projects do not impact ESA listed species. ESA listed resident fish species (like bull trout) are not present, and all the projects under consideration are above an impassible barrier to anadromous fish. Local trout populations are not endangered and are monitored annually for a potential project-related impact. The seasonal minimum flows required of these projects are set to protect and preserve the habitat requirements of the local fish populations.
- Water Quality and Temperature: The run-of-the-river projects we are developing will not affect water temperature or adversely impact water quality.
- Transmission Lines: We have selected projects with relatively short transmission lines, and most will be buried underground. For Youngs Creek, the only overhead portion was an overbuild over an existing overhead distribution line.
- Deforestation: While Youngs Creek did require cutting some trees at the intake, the entire site is under one acre, and there was not enough cut trees to even take a load to the mill. Most was used by workers for firewood. Also, we were able to support our upcoming river enhancement projects on the Sultan River, but setting aside 11 of the larger trees with the root balls intact.
- Local Workforce: Most of the workers on Youngs Creek come from the four-county area. In a discussion with Mayor Eslick of Sultan, she indicated the construction had really helped the local economy. In addition, a large share of the components were domestically produced, and the Youngs Creek project provides Snohomish County with well over $1 million in sales tax revenue.
- Other Issues: Our projects were screened to not include projects in old-growth forests, federally designated wilderness areas or wild and scenic river corridors.
There is literally nothing one can do that does not impact the environment in some way so it becomes a matter of making those impacts the least they can be. Every project that Snohomish PUD has underway, no matter how many kudos we receive, has opposition from some individual or group. When you are in a business that must build and maintain things to provide a necessary public service, the best you can do is listen to everyone, take all constructive input seriously and ultimately make balanced decisions based on sound moral and ethical principles that respect both the people and the environment.