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Large Grid Storage Project Near Klamath Falls Gets Federal Approval

Developers of Swan Lake North pumped storage plan to build a new reservoir system to store electricity from the grid. When electricity is plentiful and inexpensive, pumps will push water to a 60-acre reservoir high on a hill. Then when demand rises, the facility will release that water over turbines to a lower reservoir. As with a hydroelectric dam, the spinning turbines generate electricity that can then be fed back to supplement the grid.

The $800 million project has a 393-megawatt capacity — enough to meet the instantaneous demand of up to 390,000 homes.

Tuesday's approval comes one day before the public gets a chance to weigh in on a separate, potentially much larger pumped-hydro project elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

That project would be developed outside the south-central Washington city of Goldendale.

Bringing this kind of grid storage online has widely been seen as necessary to the development of alternative energy sources like wind and solar, which don’t continuously produce electricity.

Swan Lake North is located about 10 miles northeast of Klamath Falls in a rural farming area. Neighbors organized to oppose the project. Their primary concern is the planned construction of 33 miles of new high voltage power lines that will run across federal and private land. The lines are likely to disrupt farm practices and local views.

Dan Cohan, who lives along the power line path, said the approval of the project has been expected in the community. Cohan’s primary concern is the effect the power lines will have on migratory birds in the area. The region is a major stop-over for the Pacific Flyway, one of the major migratory bird paths in the country.

“I think there is going to be an impact," Cohan said. “They’re going to have bird strikes on the infrastructure and the power lines — just because of the sheer density of waterfowl and migratory birds that occur in this area.”

He still hopes, despite Swan Lake being granted a license, the company will do more to protect birds and farm life in the area.

Steimle said Swan Lake North will move into the pre-construction phase, which includes contracting and equipment procurement for the project.

The proposed pumped hydro storage project in Goldendale would have three times the storage capacity as Swan Lake.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.