Letters to Senate Committee - January 2013

January 29, 2013

Re:  Kim Moore’s presentation to the Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications committee on January 24, 2013

Dear Senators on the Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee:

It seems Mr. Moore, perhaps in the interest of time, neglected to note some important aspects when he was giving his presentation to the Committee last Thursday, January 24, 2013.   I’ll provide more detail to some of his presentation.

When Mr. Moore was touting the awards Young’s Creek has received, he didn’t mention the facility lost at least one million dollars the first year it was on line.   It cost SNoPUD .09 cents to make the power, and they sold it on the open market for .03 cents.  (To see the figures for yourself, start at this URL and then download the document:  http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20121102-0002 )  Mr. Moore stated the reason to pursue hydro power in that area was to be able to have power available in the “backyard.”   If that’s the case, then why sell it?   As a SnoPUD ratepayer, I question the overall business strategy if Young’s Creek is a shining example of what they can do with hydro power on rivers.  One hopes the intention is to not lose money.      

My main focus, however, from Mr. Moore’s presentation is the proposed Sunset Falls dam.  The initial cost in 2011, prior to the recent engineering changes to decrease the visual footprint, was estimated between 150 and 170 million dollars for a facility that would not generate electricity throughout the year and would only provide an estimated 1% of SnoPUD’s total energy profile.  Surprisingly, he didn’t mention the estimated cost of either the project or of the cost to initially upgrade and then annually maintain the trap and haul. 

I appreciated Chairman Ericksen’s questions about the idea of rate payers footing the bill for the fish trap and haul operation.   Last July I wrote a letter to Bill Phillips at the Department of Fish and Wildlife outlining my objections to subsidizing the trap and haul operation as a utility rate payer.  My letter to him accompanies this letter. 

With the exception of the usual Pineapple Express which generally visits the area with significant rainfall in the fall, the river flows highest in the spring, with the melting snowpack and spring rains; springtime would be the time of peak power production.  The power demand is in the winter, for heating, in Snohomish County.   In the winter, the flow in the river is low because all the snow is still up in the mountains.  The demand for energy and the ability to meet that demand occur at different times, in general, on the S. Fork of the Skykomish River.  This is illustrated on SnoPUD’s own slide show presentation, slide #8, at this URL:  http://www.snopud.com/Site/Content/Documents/sfpep/SFStudies/ProjectUpdateJan2013.pdf      That slide also shows, contrary to what Mr. Moore said, that the facility would only operate at full capacity during the spring run-off and operate less, or not at all, during other times of the year.   Instead of being shut down for two months, as Mr. Moore stated, it is likely to be shut down for as long as three to four months each year if the flow is too low to generate power, according to slide #8.  

When Mr. Moore showed the “before” and “after” photos of Sunset Falls, he said the falls would still look the same after the plant is in place.   He’s correct that the rock will still look the same but the amount of water flowing over the falls will be significantly decreased, by up to 2500 cubic feet/second, if it has been diverted to a tunnel to generate power.

When showing the photo of what the site would look like, Mr. Moore mentioned a building that would blend into the background at Sunset Falls.   He neglected to mention the cavern underneath the building the depth of which is equivalent to a 10 story building.  According to the current plan, the dimensions are approximately 180’ x 180’ x 100 feet (deep).  That is where the powerhouse would be, dynamited/blasted/drilled and excavated out of the bedrock to the left of Sunset Falls.  How can this be called “low impact”?

Only briefly mentioned is the tunnel to carry diverted water to the turbines.  The plan is to blast/dynamite/drill a 19.5’ diameter tunnel for a length of over 2,000 feet.  That’s a lot of rock to be excavated on this “low impact” project.

I have reservations about his statements of endangered species, but I do not have enough background yet to address those statements.   The project area, however, includes Federally threatened bull trout and Chinook salmon.  Even though the Falls are a barrier to fish moving upstream, they are not a barrier to anadromous juveniles, steelhead kelts and resident/anadromous bull trout migrating downstream, as long as there is enough water in the river that hasn’t been diverted to turbines.  So, yes, the project will likely interfere to some degree with species protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act but the degree of interference is unknown at this time. The importance of this river for fish, however, is that about 20% of all the salmon in the state spawn in this river system.

Mr. Moore’s opening statements included SnoPUD goals of seeking energy opportunities in the district’s “backyard” to minimize transmission loss, to minimize adversely impacting the environment, and to improve local economics.   Young’s Creek is in the backyard yet it lost money and the power was sold on the open market.  Construction of the site at Sunset Falls will have significant environmental impact.  Local economics at Sunset Falls would only be affected during construction since Mr. Moore noted that the site would be controlled remotely after it is installed.   In effect, he negated his own precepts.

In closing, Sunset Falls is not a low impact project and it will not produce a lot of energy, especially during the winter when the demand is the highest.   Thank you for taking the time to read my comments.   Contact me if I can provide further clarification.