JOSEPH, Ore. — A conditional use permitted on Wallowa County ranchland this winter would allow two cattle producers to offset their power costs with energy generated on their shared irrigation pipeline.
The Triple Creek Ranch sprawls across the upper Wallowa Valley north of Wallowa Lake, abutting the Schaafsma Ranch. Ditch water diverted from a nearby creek runs through a pipe and irrigates pasture on both ranches. If the project is built, excess pressure from the pipeline will generate energy sent to the power grid via power lines less than 20 feet from the generator.
Kyle Petrocine of Wallowa Resources, the local organization coordinating the project, said there are operational benefits to both ranches.
“The ranches will share the net metering credit generated and have lower operational costs due to lower power costs,” Petrocine said.
Ranch owner Lori Schaafsma said if the project goes through, power will only be generated during the irrigation season. She said the energy credits earned through power generation can only be used by the partnering ranches.
The cost saving could be considerable. While Schaafsma said their power bill runs about $3,000 a year, Scott Shear, manager of the Triple Creek Ranch, said his ranch spends roughly $20,000 on electricity annually.
The cost savings are high, but so is the initial outlay for permitting, siting and construction.
Schaafsma said she and her husband, Tom, have long been interested in harnessing power off of their irrigation pipeline, but need grant funding to pay for installation.
“We had always talked about it, but when we were told how much it would cost it was way more than we could afford,” Schaafsma said.
Funding for hydro projects, Petrocine said, is always a hold up
“Hydro is still fairly expensive, even for small-scale projects,” Petrocine said.
To help pay for the project Petrocine said he is applying for grants this spring and targeting fall of this year for installation.
The proposed power plant on the upper Wallowa Valley ranches will be the third hydro project Wallowa Resources has fostered; the first two were installed on a ranch in the mid-Wallowa River Valley between Lostine and Wallowa on the Spaur Ranch in 2010 and 2016. Now that Wallowa Resources has made hydro a priority, Petrocine said he anticipates overseeing two projects a year. From concept to installation, each project takes about two years. Permitting alone takes about six months, including the conditional use permit granted by Wallowa County Jan. 30.
“Now that we have our ducks in a row things will be accelerating,” Petrocine.
Energy Trust of Oregon has funded feasibility studies for these Wallowa County projects, including a few that didn’t pencil out.
A large chunk of funding for a $219,000 project at the head of Wallowa Lake was received through a Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Grant — a fund supported through ratepayers who dedicate a portion of their bill to renewable energy development. County Commissioner Susan Roberts said Pacific Power granted $60,000 for the installation of a power plant that will generate around 150 kilowatts a year, saving the project’s owner, the Wallowa Lake Service District, a municipal water and sewer entity managed by Wallowa County, about $15,000 a year in energy costs.
The log cabin style pump house will be in Wallowa Lake State Park’s campground, Petrocine said, and will have an interpretive sign explaining how a spring on the mountainside powers the turbine.
Construction on the hydroelectric plant at Wallowa Lake State Park will begin in October or November, after the tourist season, Petrocine said.