City aims to tackle water project

October 14, 2013 10:25 am
UNION — The City of Union is looking into the potential of developing a micro hydroelectric project on an existing city pipeline that diverts water from Catherine Creek.

The diversion is along Highway 203 and runs through pipe for roughly two miles to the discharge point near Catherine Creek State Park’s maintenance facility. 

“There is this steel 6-inch pipe that comes out with a couple of elbows on it and it is just dumping water,” said David Wildman of Anderson Perry and Associates. “Probably 400 to 500 gallons per minute.”

The city of Union has consulted with Anderson Perry and Associates and Wallowa Resources Community Solutions Inc about installing a micro-hydro project at the discharge site that could offset power costs to operate one municipal well.

“In terms of potential hydro production, everything is in place,” said Wildman. “They even have a little building to put a generator in, the power lines are right there, the diversion has a fish screen on it.”

What is needed for the project is a 5 to 13 kilowatt power generating turbine and generator system and the ability to connect to the power grid.

The city currently pays approximately $10,000 a year to run one of the municipal pumps that supply the city with drinking water. According to Wildman, the micro-hydro power production system could offset those costs by as much as $3,000 to $5,000.

Several things have to be determined before the project can move forward including the water right permit, a purchase power agreement to put power on the grid and the cost benefit ratio of installing the infrastructure for hydro production.

The city’s existing water right on Catherine Creek of 3 cubic feet per second, or up to 1,350 gallons per minute, was established in 1893. Like many small towns near creeks, Union’s water right permit was written for the purpose of obtaining drinking water from the creek. 

“We got all our water from our creek,” said Sandra Patterson, Union city administrator.

Many towns, including Union, now rely on city wells for drinking water and no longer utilize their permit to take municipal water from a creek. Because the original permit was specified for municipal use, which the city is no longer utilizing, it does not allow the city to develop hydro production.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, would like to find a way to allow cities like Union, who now rely on wells for drinking water but still have infrastructure in place from surface water systems, to be able to develop hydro projects. Hansell is looking for a way to accomplish this under existing law but may introduce legislation.

“We are beginning to develop support for this concept,” Hansell said.

In August, representatives from Anderson Perry and Associates and the city of Union met with Hansell about the potential of introducing a bill during the short session this February. 

“It would be a goal to make this bill be applicable for other communities that may have similar infrastructure that could be used for hydro production,” Hansell said.

The city would also need to develop a purchase power agreement with Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative. Options include selling the power over OTEC lines or setting up net metering.

A net metering arrangement would allow Union to generate power for what they need. Whatever Union generated beyond what they need OTEC would buy. OTEC is currently purchasing power for approximately four cents per kilowatt, according to Jim Horan, OTEC’s communications and government affairs specialist.

“Normally when we do net metering it is for solar and wind,” Horan said.

According to Horan, OTEC currently has about 30 net metering arrangements that are a similar size as Union’s proposed 5 to 13 kilowatt system.

The city of Cove used to sell power from their hydroelectric production facility to OTEC. Currently Cove sells power to Idaho Power Company, garnering between three and eight cents per kilowatt depending on various factors including seasonal rates and peak versus off peak hours.