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PGE plant turns green

by: Pamplin Media Group, The back of the power house at Blue Heron Paper Mill. Portland General Electric has made a series of improvements at the falls to earn a “low impact” rating for the T.W. Sullivan power plant at Willamette Falls.

The T.W. Sullivan power plant at Willamette Falls, one of the oldest in the state, has become the latest to achieve a 'low-impact' rating from a national hyrdro-power advocacy group.

Last week T.W. Sullivan became one of 32 plants across the country, and the second run by Portland General Electric, to achieve the rating from the Portland, Maine-based Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI). A number of factors go into the comprehensive, voluntary application process. But according to David Heintzman, PGE's project manager for hydro licensing, at T.W. Sullivan, 'it's all about the fish.'

'[Sullivan] is in an industrial area, so we don't have as many issues to deal with regarding wildlife or recreation,' Heintzman said. 'It's not just downstream passage of fish, but also the adults coming upstream; things that we're doing for adults are just as important but they tend to be kind of overshadowed by the improvements that we've made for the downstream migrants.'

Last year PGE undertook the highly visible - and audible - project of building the 200-foot, inflatable flow-control structure that funnels downstream fish to a safer point along the falls so they don't wash up onto the rocks. A second fish-bypass system was also installed, and PGE bought the Willamette Falls power house, an small, old generating system owned by the Blue Heron Paper Company. The company had used the power house to generate on-site electricity, but it had no fish controls. PGE is phasing power operations at the house out this year and using its water rights to generate power at the Sullivan plant.

The Sullivan plant is PGE's longest-running hydroelectric project, and was completed on the West Linn side of Willamette Falls in 1895. Since 1895, the Sullivan plant has required only one other major overhaul - in the mid-1950s - which included an expansion of the main powerhouse building and increasing the plant's generating capacity to 16 million watts. The 2,300 foot-long dam, located along the crest of the horseshoe-shaped falls, also modified over the decades, diverts river flow into the powerhouse for electricity generation.

This designation marks PGE's second hydro facility to receive LIHI certification and the third statewide. PGE's 465-million watt Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project in central Oregon was LIHI-certified last March, making it the second-largest LIHI project in the nation. The other Oregon facility with LIHI certification is the 4.3-million watt Falls Creek Dam, northeast of Eugene.

LIHI certifies hydro projects after they have passed a rigorous series of tests that demonstrate minimum impact on fish and wildlife. Because of the impact on fish and other environmental factors, electricity from a U.S. hydro plant may not be considered eligible to be sold as 'renewable' power until the related generating project has received LIHI certification. Wind, biomass, solar and geothermal energy have been historically accepted as renewable.