April 17, 2001 11:00 pm
POWER SOURCE? The City of La Grande wants to study the hydro potential of Beaver Creek Reservoir. (File photo).
POWER SOURCE? The City of La Grande wants to study the hydro potential of Beaver Creek Reservoir. (File photo).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A consulting firm to be hired by the City of La Grande will take a new look at the power generating potential at Beaver Creek.

Several issues will be investigated by Harza Engineering Company Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., to determine how practical a hydro project would be.

In 1981, Anderson, Perry and Associates Inc., a La Grande engineering firm, prepared a feasibility study on potential power generation from Beaver Creek.

The Beaver Creek Reservoir is a reserve water source for the city in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest south of La Grande.

The 1981 study indicated there would be enough power for about 120 homes using an average of 1,200 kilowatt hours per month.

While the city stopped using the Beaver Creek water source in the early 1990s, the 1981 study indicated there is potential there for producing electricity at a profit, said City Manager Wes Hare.

The verdict in 1981 was that it would have paid off, but then electricity prices were dropping, Hare said.

I think, given the current market for electricity, with its value not going down, it makes sense to investigate this potential resource.

One issue is whether any electricity produced would be worth the investment, Hare said. Any revenue will be plowed back into the citys water system.

At this point, the city staff feels the potential benefits justify the cost of the investigation, Hare said.

Tonight the city council will discuss paying $8,500 from its water fund to get the information it needs to make a decision on this issue, Hare said.

Anderson and Perry has selected Harza Engineering as a subconsultant. The firm has been involved in both very large and small hydroelectric projects and appears to be well versed on licensing and regulatory requirements associated with these types of projects, according to Howard Perry.

Another issue is the accessibility of the site, with the city-owned facility surrounded by national forest land, but Hare doesnt view that as much of a problem.

I think it would be somewhat accessible to us, he said. All we would be doing would be putting a turbine on an existing pipeline on city property.

A filtration system would have to be installed, too, if the city decides to use that source again for water, Hare said.

The water intake structure, reservoir and the pipeline are already in place.

Harzas role on the project is to focus on the power-generating potential, licensing requirements, water rights and use permitting issues, the power service agreement and potential and cost estimating for hydroelectric equipment, according to Perry.

In a letter to Hare outlining the proposed scope of the work, Perry indicated that A&P and Harza will conduct and evaluate current on-site conditions, help identify local environmental issues, prepare updated construction costs for non-electrical and hydroelectric components and assist city staff with public and council information.

What I think is most important is not only to update cost and revenue projections but to properly understand the timing and cost of all the regulatory process, Perry wrote.

These issues could have a major impact on how practical this project may be.

The consultants would prepare a very preliminary assessment of power sales opportunity to determine the market value of power, according to Perry.

The city has discussed the potential of electric power from Morgan Lake, but the lake is now fed by springs, which wouldnt produce enough water to replenish the lake if a hydro system were installed.