Record northwest heatwave illustrated need for Goldendale project

Energy Secretary calls for resilient grid 
October 1, 2021
Automakers Optimistic On EVs
October 7, 2021

ICYMI:  The Bend Bulletin of Central Oregon recently published an op-ed from Energy Fairness Executive Director Paul Griffin regarding the importance of pumped hydropower storage and the Goldendale Energy Storage Project in meeting the needs of an affordable, reliable and resilient energy economy.   Click here to be redirected to the op-ed on the Bend Bulletin’s website.  

Click here for an in-depth look at the Goldendale Energy Storage Project’s potential.

102, 104 and 108. For three straight days in the waning days of June, those were the temperatures that topped the mercury. Oregon and Washington literally buckled under the extreme heat that enveloped the region. Portland had to shut down its streetcar and light rail lines because the equipment was melting.

But light rail wasn’t the only infrastructure to suffer under the strain of the dire heat beseeching the region. The regional electric grid was put to the test and survived but illustrated a critical need — a need to complement the rapid and successful proliferation of renewables in the region. It represented a vital need for energy storage and demonstrated the need for the Goldendale Energy Storage Project.

Oregon and Washington are making great efforts to move the Pacific Northwest to a carbon-free energy future. You only have to drive down the Gorge to see this firsthand, evidenced by the proliferation of wind farms on either side of the Columbia. What you can’t see is the collective effect that these wind farms have on the operation of the regional grid.

The production of electricity is unique. It must be used when it is produced. Unlike a conventional power plant, renewables like wind and solar sometimes generate energy when it isn’t needed or don’t produce it when it is needed the most. For example, extreme temperatures are often associated with a stationary high-pressure weather system. Think no wind. Whereas solar farms generate power during the day and the sun is the most powerful, but taper off before the peak demand for electricity occurs.

In recent years, wind and solar have replaced traditional fossil fuel plants that could ramp their production up or down depending on electricity demand. The inability to ramp these renewables up or down based on demand has created a critical need for energy storage.

During the historic heat wave, the blackouts that afflicted parts of Oregon and Washington illustrated the role energy storage must play in ensuring the Northwest economy has access to reliable electricity.

Due to the involvement of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and others, when most think of energy storage, they think of the advancements being made in battery storage technologies. Without a doubt, these technologies show great promise, but they pale compared to the proven track record of pumped hydropower as a viable energy storage source. Pumped hydropower projects pump water uphill when there is surplus electricity and release it to flow back downhill through hydropower turbines when power is needed.

The Goldendale Energy Storage Project would play a critical role in filling this storage void. The Goldendale project will be constructed in the Columbia Gorge Bi-State Renewable Energy Zone two hours east of Portland and just to the southeast of Goldendale, Washington.

Once online, the project could generate up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity and store another 25,506 MWh from other renewable energy sources like wind and solar. That amount of power could power the homes in the greater Portland area for 12 hours. It’s also a closed-loop system meaning there wouldn’t be the construction of a new dam on the Columbia. Instead, it would simply operate by recirculating water between an upper and lower reservoir system.

The Goldendale project would have a minimal environmental impact in the Gorge and would have the added economic impact of creating 3,000 family-wage jobs over a four-year construction period. In addition, the project would create 50-70 permanent high-paying jobs in an area that could benefit from additional outside investment. It would also be a platform for the region’s building trades union workers seeking hands-on experience to build the Northwest’s renewable energy future.

Oregon and Washington are on the path to a future of carbon-free emissions. Solar, wind in the Gorge, and pumped hydropower projects like Goldendale will all play a critical role in achieving this net-zero emission future.