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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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Could irrigation canals generate electricity? Eastern Washington chosen for $1.6M test


Kennewick — Irrigation water could be used not only to water crops but also to produce electricity in a proposed hydropower demonstration project in an irrigation district based in Pasco.

The Department of Energy has announced an award of $1.6 million to Emrgy of Atlanta, Ga., to develop a turbine to generate hydropower at small dams where the water drop is less than 30 feet or in irrigation canals.

Emrgy will be required to provide a match of 20 percent, according to the terms of the award.

The company has been in discussions with the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District based in Pasco to test and demonstrate the turbine, likely at a water drop structure.

It could be demonstrated in a wasteway that has water year round and would produce electricity more reliably that wind projects that depend on weather conditions.

A permit will be needed when they have a prototype ready to test in the district’s water system, said John O’Callaghan, district manager. The district serves 233,000 acres, or about 365 square miles, and has watermaster offices in Eltopia, Mattawa, Mesa and Othello.

No timeline has been released, and the first step will be for DOE and Emrgy to negotiate the details of the project over the next two to three months before federal funding is provided, said Corey Vezina, acting hydropower program manager for the DOE Water Power Technology Office.

Although the size of the project was not immediately available, Vezina said it would produce in the 10- to 100-kilowatt hour range.

The Emrgy project was selected as part of the DOE Water Power Technologies Office grant awards of $13 million for seven projects.

The projects provide the potential to add thousands of megawatts of clean energy to the electric grid, said DOE.

DOE officials were looking for unique ways to add hydropower capabilities to dams and spillways that are environmentally sustainable and at a reasonable cost, Vezina said.

Emrgy presented a proposal to use existing infrastructure with no modifications to it, according to DOE.

Although details of the technology to be tested near Pasco have not been released, its website shows options to add “plug and play” turbines to canal systems to generate electricity.

Emrgy did not respond to Tri-City Herald requests for an interview about the project.

DOE is interested in tapping the hydropower potential of the 97 percent of 90,000 dams in the nation that are not producing electricity, Vezina said.

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