EWEB Recognized with Excellence in Communications Awards from American Public Power Association
We are proud to have been recognized with two Excellence in Public Power Communications Awards for 2023 from the American Public Power Association (APPA).Find Out More
EWEB now offering a Smart Thermostat rebate program
EWEB is excited to announce a new residential rebate program to provide electric customers with free or greatly discounted Smart Thermostats to customers whose primary source of heating is from an electric forced-air furnace or heat pump.Find Out More
Have an energy efficient and water conscious holiday season
The holiday season is officially upon us. Whether you are celebrating a special holiday or just sharing a meal with close friends and family, hosting can cause some unexpected energy and water usage increases – resulting in a higher utility bill. We’ve prepared some tips on how you can save energy and water this holiday season.Find Out More
River Road Substation returns to service after infrastructure upgrades
Supply chain shortages and proactive infrastructure investments, including constructing seismic foundations and implementing control modernization, have played a role in the substation's return-to-service timeline.Find Out More
The importance of managed electric vehicle charging explained
EWEB has much to handle related to EV charging infrastructure. To ensure that the switch from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles reduces the most emissions possible at the lowest cost possible, we need to implement managed EV charging.Find Out More
Fall is the perfect time to prepare for winter storm season
Winter is coming, which increases the likelihood of storm-related power outages. It's important to be prepared, and there are simple actions you can take right now.Find Out More
EWEB seeks public input on electric vehicle, demand response standards
EWEB is seeking public input on the potential adoption of updated standards for electric vehicles (EVs) and demand response programs. The potential standards are derived from the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA.Find Out More
Public Power Week Poster Contest 2023
It’s that time of year again! October 1-7 is Public Power Week. To celebrate, EWEB is holding our annual poster contest for fifth graders in our service area. Help us pick the winners.Find Out More
Salmon Return to Finn Rock Reach
Finn Rock Reach and other restoration projects throughout the Middle McKenzie provide conditions to help young fish survive to adulthood.Find Out More
EWEB programs reflect community values
EWEB is here to serve our customer-owners and provides programs that reflect the values of our community.Find Out More
Where is EWEB in planning our future electricity supply?
In August, we reached a milestone: EWEB’s five-member elected Board of Commissioners approved an action plan to guide our energy supply choices for the next 2-3 years. How did we get here?Find Out More
Women in STEM: EWEB Engineer Laura Ohman's second degree brings a lifetime of benefits
EWEB Engineer Laura Ohman shares how getting her second degree was one of the most difficult and rewarding things she's ever accomplished.Find Out More
Planning for a Future of Reliable, Affordable, Environmentally Responsible Energy
The challenges revealed by Eugene Water & Electric Board’s integrated resource planning process mirror those facing the Northwest.Find Out More
EWEB’s heat driven call to conserve energy yields major savings
EWEB is likely to implement similar, formalized “demand response” programs in the future.Find Out More
Please join your neighbors in reducing energy use today
With excessive temperatures and wildfire conditions affecting power generation across the region, EWEB is encouraging customers to safely conserve power.Find Out More
- Show More
An In Depth Look at the Carmen Smith Hydroelectric Project
May 03, 2017
This article originally appeared in "Bulletin," the Northwest Public Power Association's monthly magazine.
In November 1963, Oregon Gov. Mark Hatfield presided over the dedication ceremony for the newly completed Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project on the upper McKenzie River.
Dozens of buses transported curious residents up Highway 126 to take part in the celebration and to see this modern engineering marvel for themselves. A band played, picnic lunches were served and the plant, paid for with a $23.5 million bond, began operations. The project would become EWEB's largest source of locally generated energy, producing enough electricity to power 16,000 homes per year.
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, the Carmen-Smith Project operates as a system to store water overnight, and produces power during high usage times when we would otherwise be buying it on the wholesale market during those more expensive hours.
So, when the operating license for the project was set to expire, we started the intensive work necessary to acquire a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In October 2008, we were proud to announce that we had reached a Settlement Agreement with 16 partners representing fisheries and natural resource agencies, environmental groups, Native American tribes and recreation organizations. This negotiated agreement formed the basis for the license application.
Carmen-Smith is a network of three dams and reservoirs and two power-generating plants located just a few miles downstream from the headwaters of the McKenzie River. Understandably, the new agreement included significant habitat enhancements, campground improvements and more fish-friendly plant operations that would be undertaken as part of a new 50-year operating license.
The biggest ticket item was a "volitional" fish passage system at Trail Bridge Dam, the lowest of the project's three earthen dams. When EWEB signed the agreement, wholesale power prices were strong and were predicted to climb steadily over time, ensuring continued value to our customers despite the project's price tag.
But as the license application was under federal review, the Great Recession struck, sending power prices to historic lows. A glut of natural gas, fueled by the rapid rise of hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," sent power prices spiraling by 70 percent even as the rest of the economy improved.
In 2016, the results of an updated financial analysis caused us to re-evaluate the project. The new analysis showed re-licensing costs to be over $200 million, while prices on the wholesale energy markets were projected to remain at near-record lows. With new energy pricing forecasts, the future for Carmen-Smith as an economically viable energy resource appeared bleak. We hit the pause button and formally requested that FERC delay issuance of the license.
A new approach
Fast forward to today. We recently submitted a modified Settlement Agreement that addresses the economic realities of the region's energy markets, while honoring its original commitment to environmental and recreational enhancements at the project.
"Getting this far into a hydro relicensing process, and then attempting to renegotiate the Settlement Agreement was not a simple or easy decision to make," says EWEB's Project Manager and lead negotiator Patty Boyle. "We are grateful that the parties to the Settlement agreed to come back to the table to explore alternative and creative solutions that ultimately reduced the financial risks to EWEB customers while preserving the environmental benefits of the project."
The new agreement retains major investments in habitat restoration, aquatic enhancement measures and recreational improvements. Modifications at the Trail Bridge Dam will enable Chinook salmon, bull trout and other fish to once again migrate into the uppermost reaches of the river. But instead of a complicated 'volitional' system that included an expensive downstream fish screen and upstream ladder as originally proposed, the parties have agreed to an alternative method of fish passage.
The new agreement calls for construction of a "trap and haul" facility, which uses attractive water flows to encourage migrating fish to climb a short ladder and enter a holding pool. Underwater cameras will be used to detect the presence of fish in the holding pool. Then, using water-to-water transfer, fish are lifted into a transport vehicle that will drive up and around the dam and release them into the Trail Bridge Reservoir. Fish can freely swim further upstream, and juveniles can travel downstream past the dam via an improved spillway system.
"Trap and haul is a proven technology, and ongoing monitoring will ensure that this system meets federally mandated performance requirements," says EWEB Generation Engineering Supervisor Mark Zinniker.
Constructing this fish passage facility means we will forego power generation from the Trail Bridge turbine, giving up a bit of energy production in exchange for a less costly, and less visually intrusive, fish screen.
A complete overhaul of the powerhouse refurbishment plan yields further savings. Instead of replacing both turbine/generator units, we will replace only one, while minimally refurbishing the second unit to ensure safe operations. And, instead of re-locating the substation off the river to reduce the risk of spills in the river, the substation will be re-built in its current location using environmentally-friendly transformer oil. Besides being a much less expensive solution, this strategy has the additional benefit of reducing disturbance to sensitive forested areas. Altogether, these actions reduce the capital investments by about $80 million and long-term operating costs by about $1 million per year.
Building for the future
Powerhouse refurbishment work has started at the Carmen plant with a major project to replace the two failing turbine shut-off valves. The power tunnel/penstock system will be dewatered so that the general contractor, Wildish Building Co., can begin demolition activities shortly after the new valves arrive from the fabrication plant in Italy. This work represents the start of multiple years of construction at the plant.
"Planning and design work for the next phase, reconstruction of the substation facilities, is also underway and progressing well," says Mark. The powerhouse overhaul is anticipated to take about five years.
While we don't have a new license in hand, we are operating the Trail Bridge plant in a manner that improves fish passage now, recognizing that our partners have waited many years to see these benefits come to fruition.
From March through June, approximately 350 cubic feet per second of water is being released down the spillway to aid the out-migration of threatened juvenile spring Chinook salmon. Additional gravel will be placed in the two river reaches above the power house and in the Carmen -Smith spawning channel to improve critical habitat areas for Chinook salmon and bull trout.
In addition to environmental enhancements, a major component of the re-licensing agreement involves improvements to the area's recreational facilities, as the three reservoirs are popular fishing spots. We will rebuild two existing campgrounds, improve day-use areas, and remove dispersed campsites that are located in areas that could pose a public safety hazard.
Another recreationally-focused improvement put in place ahead of the license issuance is a half-time United States Forest Service Protection Officer. EWEB is paying for this new position to help ensure safety for recreational users and enforcement of fishing regulations that protect native, threatened and endangered species.
Still on shaky ground?
Even with the significant savings afforded in the new agreement, the overall project economics are just about break-even over the life of a 40-year license.
"It's impossible to predict where wholesale energy markets will be in the future and get it right," says Patty. "If our conservative financial assumptions hold true, Carmen-Smith is still dicey from an economic perspective, but that doesn't mean relicensing isn't the right move for EWEB."
There are numerous noneconomic benefits of retaining ownership of this project for EWEB. First, Carmen is operated as a carbon-free peaking power plant, helping us meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Then there is its 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 that facility is consistent with our watershed stewardship role.
The value of local generation is another benefit, 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 MW of capacity, Carmen-Smith plays a significant role in this concept.
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 native and endangered fish populations for future generations. With the help of our partners, this can be Carmen-Smith's lasting legacy.