Goldendale Pumped Storage Project Threatens Wildlife & Cultural Resources

Rye Development wants to build a massive pumped storage hydroelectric project along the Columbia River in Klickitat County near the John Day Dam. The Goldendale Energy Storage Hydroelectric Project would be the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

Rye’s plan would excavate two reservoirs: the hilltop reservoir would span 60 acres and the lower reservoir would cover 63 acres. Pumped storage would generate hydroelectricity for peak periods of demand. When electricity on the grid is abundant, Rye would pump water from the lower reservoir into the higher one. Then, when there is demand for electricity, Rye would release water in the upper reservoir through turbines and back into the lower reservoir. The energy-generating capacity: 1200 megawatts. Rye claims the $2 billion project would be complete by 2028.

The Yakama Nation is opposed to this project. It would impact at least nine culturally significant sites including archaeological, ceremonial, burial petroglyph, monumental and ancestral use sites. The Yakama Nation explains that the Columbia River was dammed over the last century, impacting many of their rights, interests and resources, including fishing sites, villages and burial sites. This project is another example of energy development that comes at a cost to native people.

The proposed project would use a lot of water. Initial fill for the reservoirs would use 2.93 million gallons from the Columbia River. Rye would also use roughly 1.2 million gallons of water per year from the Columbia for “periodic makeup” to offset losses from evaporation and leakage. Rye also wants to be able to refill the reservoirs if they need to be emptied for repair. Rye calls the project “closed-loop,” a misleading description due to its plans to use Columbia River water to sustain the reservoirs.

The project also would have serious impacts on birds. The introduction of two large water surfaces would attract many more birds to the area, which is located near a large wind energy project. Wildlife biologists have raised concerns that the reservoirs would increase wind-turbine bird kills, particularly for Bald and Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons that nest in the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly noted that the history of mortalities shows a landscape already compromised by wind power infrastructure. Golden Eagles, in particular, appear to have difficulty navigating the wind currents affected by existing wind towers. The project would further alter the wind currents potentially resulting in higher bird mortalities. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has raised wildlife habitat concerns about the project.

Pumped storage requires significant upfront capital investment and lengthy permitting processes. Experts question the financial viability of this project. Rocky Mountain Econometrics (RME) developed a model of market forces and financial viability of the project. RME concluded:

“It is possible that the Goldendale Pump Storage Project is being proposed with full knowledge that it will fail. Further, bankruptcy may be an unstated but integral part of the Goldendale business plan as a means of shedding sufficient debt to survive in the current wholesale power market. These results, as detailed in the report’s Appendix Alternative Debt Structures, give us pause as to whether any adverse impacts to public values such as water quality, water quantity, flow regime, fish and wildlife, tribal and cultural resources, surrounding communities, and/or recreation are worth the risk of generated energy storage.” Bottom line: Rye Development would cause the loss of irreplaceable cultural resources and significant environmental damage for speculative benefits.

Rye already has secured water rights for the project from the Klickitat County Public Utility District. It needs a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a Clean Water Act 401 water quality certification from the Washington Department of Ecology.  The project will also undergo federal National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act reviews. Rye estimates FERC will release a draft Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement in summer 2021. After the FERC process, the developer will need to apply to the Bonneville Power Administration for transmission interconnect approval.

You can oppose this project by signing Columbia Riverkeeper’s petition asking Governor Inslee and Senators Murry and Cantwell to stand in solidarity with the Yakama Nation.

Visit the Columbia Riverkeeper Goldendale Pumped Storage Project

Published by Susan Saul

Conservation Chair, Vancouver Audubon Society

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