Apr 13 , 2012
Wind and solar get the renewable headlines, but what about biomass and hydro?
At Avista we like to say that we were founded on renewable hydroelectricity. We’re proud of it. Even today the biggest resource percentage of generated or purchased power comes from hydroelectricity. Yet nationally, renewable energy tends to be framed around wind, solar and sometimes biomass and hydro. Where does Avista, biomass, hydroelectricity and your power fit in the renewable discussion?
Let’s start with hydroelectricity. Unlike much of the country, the Northwest benefits from having abundant hydroelectric resources. It’s good for all of us, because it’s in our backyard. It’s pretty tough to get a new hydroelectric project started in the United States, so the growth in this area generally comes from modernizing generation to make it more efficient. For the past decade or more we’ve been doing just that on the Clark Fork River
at our Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge dams.
Some of our hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River
are more than 100 years old, and since we need to keep those dams running responsibly and reliably, we’re always looking for ways to improve them. This year, we’re looking at upgrading parts of our Post Falls and Little Falls hydroelectric facilities. There’s no doubt about it, hydroelectricity is an important renewable resource.
Biomass is another example of renewable energy that doesn’t get much of the spotlight. Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant
was the first electric generating station of its kind constructed within the United States for the sole purpose of producing electricity from wood waste. It opened in October of 1983 – roughly 29 year ago. That’s a long history of renewable generation. Beginning in 2016 Washington will officially recognize its operations as a renewable resource for the purposes of meeting Washington state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).
Now for the hip, cool kids – wind and solar.
|A small solar array is affixed to the top of our
corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the
power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.
Let’s talk solar first. Sure, the sun is free, but equipment involved in generating and delivering that power to the grid isn’t free - not by a long shot. In our area, given our other resources (like hydro), utility scale solar power isn’t in the cards, at least not today. We’re always on the lookout for proven resources, so that may change in the future, in fact a small solar array is affixed to the top of our corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.
Last, but certainly not least in this renewable roundup, is wind. Today Avista doesn’t generate any of its own power via wind, yet we’ve had a long-standing contract to buy wind power from the Stateline Wind Project on the Washington/Oregon border. Soon a new wind farm called Palouse Wind will come online near the town of Oakesdale and State Route 195 on the hills surrounding Naff Ridge. The project is being developed by First Wind, but Avista has secured the rights to its electrical output for next 30 years. Avista has been thinking about how to incorporate wind into our generation mix for several years, so it’s certainly on our minds.
As you can see, from hydro to biomass, and wind to (a little) solar, we’re all over this renewable thing.
For another look at Avista’s power generation and planning for the future, check out our Electric Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)
. The IRP analyzes and outlines a strategy to meet projected demand and renewable portfolio standards through energy efficiency and a careful mix of qualifying renewable and traditional energy resources
Renewable energy and you
Avista launched a Buck-A-Block
voluntary rate program for customers in 2002. The program is still going strong today with thousands of megawatt hours of emission-free wind being purchased annually. Nearly 4,000 customers participate. When you sign up for Buck-A-Block
, you make a voluntary payment above and beyond your normal rates. Avista makes no profit from that additional money, which goes to support the renewable energy many of our customers prefer by purchasing environmental offsets from renewable energy generation.
Apr 13 , 2012
Four-year, $45 million upgrade nearing completion at Avista’s largest hydroelectric dam
In February Avista’s Noxon Rapids hydroelectric project, which generates clean, renewable energy reached a big milestone when the last of four original turbines to be replaced was installed. The four-unit, $45 million project started in July 2008 and is on schedule to be finished by spring 2012.
The upgraded units are expected to increase the total generating capacity of the dam by an estimated 30 megawatts. The upgrades enhance Avista’s ability to serve our customers because it lets us generate more power using the same amount of water – enough energy, in fact, to power more than 4,800 homes, or a town nearly the same size as Rathdrum, Idaho. Another benefit: this additional energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act (RCW 19.285) to meet Avista’s Washington state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements.
Avista continues to generate or purchase about half of our energy with hydroelectric power. Investing in our hydroelectric dams makes good sense – some of them are more than 100 years old – and it’s a continual process.
You can sense a pride of ownership from the crew featured in the above video. Many of these employees, who worked to remove and replace the old turbine, have been working on hydroelectric generation projects for many years. When the Noxon Rapids work is complete, these employees will move onto other projects, but their legacy will live on in the additional energy they helped produce.
Apr 06 , 2012
The spill gates at our Post Falls Dam are roaring today as seen in this quickie video posted to our Facebook page
. Best advice: Stay out of the river in high water. Safety first people!
There was a river rescue earlier today near Gonzaga. According to a Spokesman-Review story posted today
, "[Spokane] officials warn that no one, especially children, should go in the river. People also are advised to stay away from flooded bike and walking paths along the river."
Mar 27 , 2012
An inside look at how Avista gathers information about snowpack
Avista owns and operates eight hydroelectric
dams on the Clark Fork and Spokane rivers.
These facilities, together with long term hydro
contracts, make up about half of the total
electric resources available to serve our
Skiers may prefer light and fluffy snow, but heavy and wet snow contributes more to our water supply in the Northwest. Avista counts on water to generate hydropower for our customers. Every year, Avista evaluates snowpack information in the mountains to get an idea of what spring runoff may be like at our dams on the Spokane and Clark Fork rivers. Only a select few get to see this evaluation process up close, so we took a video camera up the mountain to get you a special look at snowpack measurement.
Avista rents snowmobiles so employees can get as close to the snowpack measurement site as possible. Snow depth is measured by pushing an aluminum tube down through the snowpack and all the way down to ground surface. Both the depth and weight of the snow is recorded. An average of all samples taken is calculated and used to represent the snowpack measurement site.
Avista measures 10 sites at Roland Summit in the Lolo National Forest, which is located near the Hiawatha Trail. Once the data is collected, the Hydro Engineering team submits the data to the National Resources Conservation Service who is largely responsible for providing Avista and many other interested parties with reliable water supply forecasts.
The more gradual the snowmelt, the more Avista can maximize that water running through its dams. However, you never know what Mother-Nature is going to do. Regardless, our customers can count on Avista to make the most out of this precious resource in an efficient, reliable and environmentally-responsible way.
If you have questions about lake and river levels, please visit our website
Mar 02 , 2012
Crews reflect on work while installing finishing touches on four-year, $45 million project
An Avista employee signs Unit 4’s new turbine with
a paint pen prior to its insertion at Noxon Rapids
Dam. They don’t usually autograph their work in this
way, but the project has lasted four years and this
was the last new turbine installed at Noxon, so the
crew wanted to mark the occasion.
It’s a complicated job to turn water, wind, natural gas, coal, or even sunshine into reliable energy. It takes a lot of people and equipment and it doesn’t come free. In fact, about 60 cents of every dollar you pay each month in your electric bill is simply the cost of power, whether it’s power Avista generates at our plants or power we buy on the market.
Avista continues to generate or purchase about half of our energy with hydroelectric power, one of the cleanest, most dependable and most cost-effective energy resources. Investing in our hydroelectric dams makes good sense – some of them are more than 100 years old – and it’s a continual process.
In the case of Noxon Rapids, Avista’s largest hydroelectric dam, in 2012 we’ll be wrapping up our four-year, $45 million project to upgrade all four original generating units, which were installed in the late 1950s, with new turbines. The result? We can make more energy using the same amount of water – enough energy, in fact, to power more than 4,800 homes, or a town nearly the same size as Rathdrum, Idaho. Another benefit: this additional energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act (RCW 19.285) to meet Avista’s Washington state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements.
The new turbines boast features such as smooth edges and corners and a stainless steel body that weighs just 65 tons (as opposed to the old turbines, massive beasts that weighed around 120 tons.) Removing the old turbines and installing the new ones took thousands of hours of skilled labor and craftsmanship, and many of the crew members have been involved throughout the entire project. Watch the final turbine being installed at Noxon Rapids, and hear from some of the folks that helped make it happen. These are your energy dollars at work.
Watch an interview with project engineer P.J. Henscheid as the old Unit 4 turbine is removed back in fall 2011.
Feb 06 , 2012
By Brandi Smith
Avista recently sent out the latest issue of the Spokane River Newsletter, a quarterly publication that keeps subscribers informed about our activities in and around the Spokane River. Below is an article from the newsletter that describes how we operate the Post Falls Dam during the winter season. Check out the latest issue
and learn more about what Avista has been up to.
Winter river flows and Coeur d’Alene Lake levels
People commonly think floods occur in the spring. But did you know many of the highest levels recorded for Coeur d’Alene Lake have occurred in the winter? For example, on Christmas day in 1933 the lake reached an all-time peak of roughly eleven feet over its summer level.
Coeur d’Alene Lake is a natural lake with an outlet that naturally restricts its outflow. The primary sources of water into the lake are the St. Joe, St. Maries and Coeur d’Alene rivers. The water then flows through the outlet to create the Spokane River. Avista’s Post Falls Hydroelectric Dam is on the Spokane River, nine miles downstream of the lake’s outlet. The dam affects Coeur d’Alene Lake elevation for about half of the year. During winter and spring, lake levels are controlled entirely by the natural outlet restriction and inflows.
The winter months are generally the wet season in our region. Fluctuating temperatures, rain that occurs on top of snow, or extended heavy rain can increase flows rapidly, which in turn can result in quickly-rising river and lake elevations.
Avista’s goal each year is to draw Coeur d’Alene Lake down six to seven feet below the summer level by early January. This allows Post Falls Dam to generate electricity while providing capacity in the lake for later precipitation and runoff. Natural inflows usually exceed our turbine capacity early in the year, letting Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Spokane River find their naturally occurring levels with no influence by the dam. This free flow condition typically continues through spring run-off until late May, June or early July.
River and lake levels can change quickly. We want you to stay safe, so always use caution on the water and comply with all posted notices and closures, especially in the vicinity.
Avista has a 24-hour telephone information line that provides notification of anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’Alene Lake, Lake Spokane and the Spokane River.
In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357, in Washington call (509) 495-8043
Other stories you might enjoy:
Dec 22 , 2011
By Dan Kolbet
The New York Times blog Green, which focuses on energy and the environment, recently featured Avista’s innovative Bull Trout genetic testing work on the Clark Fork River. We’re doing the project as part of our FERC license to operate the Cabinet Gorge and Noxon Rapids dams on the river. The ultimate goal is to protect the genetic integrity of the fish and boost their numbers. It’s a pretty cool project and it’s nice to see this national recognition.
Here are the first couple paragraphs of the article. See the full article here.
Trucking Trout to Their Native Streams
By Deborah Weisberg, NY TImes
In an innovative conservation effort, biologists on the Clark Fork River are using genetic testing to help get bull trout back to their natal streams to spawn.
Fulfilling a requirement for the relicensing of its two hydroelectric power plants on the river in Idaho and Montana, Avista Utilities is having the fin tissue of randomly caught adult bull trout “fingerprinted.” Juvenile fish in the natal streams are also sampled to determine whether they carry the DNA of the adults.
Continue Reading at the New York Times website here.
Nov 08 , 2011
The last turbine to be upgraded at Noxon Rapids Dam was removed from service on Oct. 19, 2011. Avista's Brandi Smith interviewed project engineer P.J. Henscheid on the big day. See the video above.
The removal of the turbine is part of a $45 million project to upgrade four original generating units with newer, more efficient technology. The project started in July 2008 and is on schedule to be finished by spring 2012.
Nov 07 , 2011
Avista employees rescue stranded shopping cart, remove rusted blight from Spokane River
When Avista’s Ben McArthur saw an unsightly blight in the middle of the Spokane River, near the Hamilton Street Bridge, he didn’t ignore it like the thousands of others who passed by it every day. He and his co-workers took action. A red grocery store shopping cart had found its way onto a small island in the middle of the river. No one is sure exactly how it got there. Low water levels made it stand out.
McArthur and friends would have none of it. McArthur contacted fellow employee Celene Olgeirsson who just happens to be the President of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club. As an experienced kayaker Olgeirsson had the right equipment and knowledge to do the heavy lifting in the water and ensure the safety of all involved.
McArthur and Olgeirsson, with the help of another Avista employee, Ray Burnham, spent a lunch hour near the end of October on the project. On a crisp, clear day, Olgeirsson glided out to the island and attached a rope to the cart, while those on shore pulled it in. The whole deal took only 45 minutes.
Avista employees do an annual volunteer river clean up near the Mission Campus and regularly find large discarded items on Avista’s adopted mile of the Centennial Trail – shopping carts, tires and furniture included. Rarely do items make it so far into the river.
McArthur returned the cart to store employees, who promised to properly dispose of the wreckage.
Kudos to McArthur, Olgeirsson and Burnham for bettering the Spokane River for the community.
River users should be sure to follow all posted safety warning and closure signs on the water and especially near hydroelectric facilities. For more information about safety in the river and near dams, click here.
Oct 27 , 2011
What weighs 120 tons and has been generating clean and reliable hydropower for 52 years? A turbine runner at Noxon Rapids Dam that has been in service since the dam’s opening in 1959.
On October 19, the project reached a milestone. The last turbine to be upgraded at Noxon Rapids Dam was removed from service. The removal of the turbine is part of a $45 million project to upgrade four original generating units with newer, more efficient technology. The project started in July 2008 and is on schedule to be finished by spring 2012.
The upgraded units are expected to increase the total generating capacity of the dam by an estimated 30 megawatts. The upgrades enhance Avista’s ability to serve our customers because it lets us generate more power using the same amount of water, rather than securing it somewhere else. The new turbines also boast features such as smooth edges and corners and a stainless steel body that weighs just 65 tons. The incremental energy they produce is already helping Avista meet its Washington State renewable portfolio standards as well.
Removing an old turbine isn’t easy business. They are cast steel beasts weighing approximately 120 tons. The prep work alone takes hundreds of hours of skilled labor and craftsmanship to get the turbine ready for retirement. Once the big day comes, a large crane is used to lift it out of the penstock. It’s a slow and careful process that takes a full day to complete, which makes Noxon Rapids’ stellar safety record of 20 years and counting for zero lost-time accidents even more impressive.
The final new replacement turbine is expected to be in service by spring 2012. As for the old turbine, we hope to move it to the dam’s public viewing area as an added attraction to an already beautiful and scenic park.