July 21, 2019 at 6:00 am
By Hal Bernton Seattle Times staff reporter
GRAND COULEE DAM — When workers started pulling apart the three largest hydroelectric units in North America — capable of supplying more than enough power for all of Seattle — they found the damage far worse than expected.
They encountered large cracks, worn-out bearings and a defect in a critical weld that, if left in place, could fail, unleashing catastrophic flooding inside the powerhouse that risked killing workers and destroying the 7 million-pound generator-turbine units.
That last discovery halted work for 10 months to give engineers time to come up with a fix that would ensure a crucial covering would hold fast.
“How do we deal with the unexpected? It definitely keeps you up at night,” said Brian Clark, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manager for the project, which got underway in 2013 when work began on the first turbine.
Columbia Generating Station
At the last OCA meeting, Phil Lusk gave a talk about the costly electricity we buy from the Columbia Generating Station (CGS), a nuclear power plant located near Richland WA. Phil’s analysis indicates that this nuclear-energy facility, owned and operated by Energy Northwest, is subsidized heavily, to the tune of $1.64 billion by 2028. Phil stated that we are paying too much because of this power plant’s high production costs.
He stated that U.S. wastes as much as 30% of the energy it buys, and improving energy efficiency by using LEDs and ductless-heat pumps could be a more cost-effective solution than buying this costly electricity. He also stated that our local share of CGS’ subsidy is enough to buy every local resident a ductless heat pump by 2025—a far more efficient way to “produce” the energy, and a way that keeps the money in the local community.
The Bonneville Power Administration, which buys the power from the CGS, pledged to assess its economic competitiveness in 1998 but has never done so. It is time for BPA to honor its pledge, and conduct the CGS market test using a public process.
Check out Philip’s slide show here.