Options presented for Morse Creek power plant

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles city officials aren’t exactly sure what they want to do with the out-of-commission hydroelectric facility straddling Morse Creek, roughly 5 miles south of where the creek passes under U.S. Highway 101.

One thing is certain, however: They don’t want to spend the estimated $100,000 it would take to get it up and running again.

City crews ceased operation of the hydroelectric project, originally brought online in 1985, in April after finding a piece of machinery necessary for electricity generation needed replacing, City Power Resources Manager Phil Lusk told members of the city’s Utility Advisory Committee at their Tuesday meeting last week.

Lusk said city staff soon realized repairing the facility’s powerhouse, which generated electricity with the help of the flowing waters of Morse Creek, did not seem to be worth the cost based on the amount of electricity produced.

“I’m not showing it’s going to be cost effective for the city to continue operation of this facility,” Lusk said.

Committee members unanimously agreed to seek options other than repairing the facility and passed this recommendation to Port Angeles City Council members for discussion at their meeting this coming Tuesday.

The Morse Creek project, which was shuttered between 1997 and 2004 due to increases in the cost of using it to produce power, historically provided roughly 0.3 percent of the city’s total power usage, Lusk said.

“And that would be equivalent of 30 cents on a $100 bill,” he told committee.

The project cost about $1.3 million to build in 1987, which would translate to about $2.65 million in 2012 dollars, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

Lusk estimates the Morse Creek facility cost the city between $40 and $42 per megawatt-hour over the course of its operation.

For comparison, the city currently pays a base charge of roughly $30 per megawatt-hour for electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration.

The Morse Creek generator is rated at 465 kilowatts—roughly enough to power 450 using an average amount of electricity, if the generator were running at full capacity, Lusk explained.

“If it was a large fraction of our power supply, the relative importance of this facility would be elevated,” Lusk said.

Since 2008, Lusk estimated the city spent about $12,000 per in fix costs on the facility, adding that these costs would stick around even if the city chose to no longer operate it.

“[In the future], the city could be paying $10,000 to $12,000 per year just for the privilege of keeping that facility in standby mode,” Lusk said.

Putting the power-generating equipment into standby would mean keeping it shut down but maintaining it so that it could be turned back on relatively quickly, Lusk explained.

In addition to placing the facility in standby mode or permanently retiring it, Lusk said a third option would be selling it, adding that at least two parties have expressed interest in buying the machinery from the city.

Lusk said one of the interested parties is based in Europe and trades in hydroelectric equipment, while the other is based in Washington and is interested in the facility for historical purposes.

Lusk declined to identify the two interested parties.

If the city were to sell the facility, Lusk said the facility’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license, which the city currently holds, would most likely have to be transferred to the new owner, which Lusk estimated could take between one and two years.

Physically removing the machinery, powerhouse and associated concrete structures would also most likely take at least a year and involve consulting with the state Department of Ecology and Department of Fish and Wildlife, since a creek ecosystem is involved, Lusk explained.

The facility, built across a concrete water diversion weir constructed in 1924 to provide the City of Port Angeles with water, is the only hydroelectric project to Lusk’s knowledge built on the North Olympic Peninsula, other than the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

The city stopped using the weir, and accompanying 11,400-foot pipeline, as a water source in 1971 when the Elwha River became the city’s main water supply, according to Peninsula Daily News archives.

Lusk said he did not know the exact rationale for building the facility in the first place, but estimated city officials at the time feared rising energy costs and between 5 and 7 percent annual growth in energy demand for the city.

“And, the effectiveness of the region’s [energy] conservation plan had not really been proven,” Lusk said.

Recent years have seen a heavy focus on conservation as the main resource for lowering energy costs, Lusk said, and it’s this conservation that makes the maintenance of a small hydroelectric facility impractical.

“As market forces have shown, conservation program savings are very effective,” Lusk said, “not only for the city but also for the region.”

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 18. 2012 6:12PM
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