The Carmen-Smith Hydropower Project is a network of three dams, three reservoirs, and two power-generating plants, located just a few miles downstream from the headwaters of the McKenzie River. For more than 50 years, Carmen-Smith has reliably served our customers with low-cost hydropower. The plant remains valuable as a carbon-free generation resource that can ramp up and down to meet customers' peak energy needs. In other words, Carmen-Smith operates as a system to store water overnight, and produces power during high usage times when we would otherwise be buying power on the wholesale market during those more expensive hours.
New natural resource projects
In 2019, we acquired a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This 40-year license allows us to continue generating hydropower at Carmen. In return for our license to operate, we will be enhancing and managing natural resources and rebuilding public recreation facilities in the area. Much of the initial work will take place over the coming decade, but we will continue to manage certain natural resources for the duration of our license.
Here are just a few projects we are working on:
- Creating fish passage past Trail Bridge dam, which will give federally threatened salmon and trout access to historic spawning areas upstream of the dam.
- Enhancing biodiversity across more than 300 acres of terrestrial wildlife habitat by encouraging native plant species, preserving mature trees and enhancing understory development, and providing dead wood habitat.
- Monitoring and respecting sites around the project that are culturally significant to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (and other indigenous tribes and bands).
- Rebuilding Trail Bridge Campground and shoreline trail, including universally accessible opportunities and signs about the history and ecology of the area.
- Monitoring rare, native plants and removing invasive species.
Please click here to find out more about our environmental stewardship at Carmen Smith.
New Infrastructure projects
In 2016, we started replacing old infrastructure and outdated technology and this work will likely continue through 2022. These projects include:
- Replacing both turbine runners and rewinding the generators at the Carmen Powerhouse to ensure safe, reliable and efficient operations. The generator uses the force of water moving through the turbine runner to produce power -- up to 55 megawatts per generating unit.
- Replacing both turbine shutoff valves. Turbine shutoff valves allow the turbine-generator units to cycle on and off to serve peak power demand periods each day. The 96-inch diameter valves also isolate the generating equipment from high pressure water for maintenance and repair work.
- Rebuilding the Carmen substation at its current location on the McKenzie River, using environmentally friendly transformer oil. Two new 60-MVA transformers at the substation will convert power to a higher voltage before the power is sent to Eugene via our transmission line. This project also includes modernization of the Carmen Powerhouse switchgear, protective relays and control systems.
- Upgrading our control systems at the Trail Bridge Power Plant. These improvements will allow us to make precise flow rate changes to the water we release from Trail Bridge Reservoir.
- Installing new stoplogs at the Carmen Diversion Reservoir spillway. New stoplogs help EWEB safely minimize water levels in the reservoir during the flood and snowmelt seasons.
- Performing seismic upgrades to an access bridge over the McKenzie River.
- Upgrading our on-site drinking water system.
EWEB fosters a resilient environment
The overall project economics of operating Carmen-Smith are just about break-even over the life of our 40-year license. However, there are numerous non-economic benefits for EWEB and our customers to retain ownership of this project. First, Carmen is operated as a carbon-free peaking power plant, helping us meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Then there is the project's location near the headwaters of the McKenzie River. Nearly 200,000 area residents rely on the McKenzie for their drinking water. In our role as an electric and water utility, we are heavily invested in protecting the watershed for drinking water quality. Having a physical presence at the headwaters and maintaining local control of the facility is consistent with our watershed stewardship role.
Another benefit is the value of local generation, particularly as we consider the potential of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake or other regional disaster.
Carmen is one of three EWEB-owned hydroelectric plants on the McKenzie River. Resiliency is a key strategic priority, and local generation is an essential component of that plan. We are working on building a "resilient spine" in our electric transmission system. The idea is to enable us to move power from local generating resources to critical facilities, such as hospitals and public safety agencies, in an emergency. With about 110 megawatts of capacity, Carmen-Smith plays a significant role in this concept.
When it was built in 1963, Carmen-Smith was a source of immense community pride. Its construction represented great strides in engineering and technical advancement in the field of energy production. Looking forward, our investments will demonstrate how to balance the community's desire for clean energy with our responsibility to protect and enhance natural resources for future generations. With the help of our partners, this can be Carmen-Smith's lasting legacy.
Resources to help young readers learn about clean hydropower and the history and importance of the Carmen-Smith project.
Our 40-year operating license at Carmen Smith includes 10 natural resource and recreation management plans and over 300 individual commitments.