Three Sisters Irrigation District, one of Energy Trust of Oregon’s largest projects, has recently achieved several milestones in its irrigation modernization project.

The district has installed two hydroelectric projects, with construction underway on a third.

“When these three are fully operational, combined they’ll generate more than 4.8 million kwh of electricity,” Susan Jowaiszas of Energy Trust of Oregon said. “The revenue from selling this power helps the district offset the cost of their modernization projects.”

Three Sisters Irrigation District started modernizing 20 years ago. Today they have modernized 92% of its irrigation systems, having piped 54 of the district’s 59 canals.

In addition to the hydroelectric systems, the district delivers pressurized water to 75 farms, which eliminates the need for on-farm irrigation pumps and saves these farmers and the district about 5 million kwh of electricity annually.

Three Sisters is one of 20-plus districts around Oregon considering or in progress with modernization projects. Because of the size of its project, it has been able to leverage incentives from Energy Trust of $1.04 million cash incentive and $300,000 in project development assistance, state and federal dollars to offset its cost.

“On the other hand, Vern Spaur is a great example of a small project with Energy Trust,” Jowaiszas said. “A rancher in Wallowa County, Spaur installed two micro-hydropower turbines on his ranch that generate 157,000 kwh each year — enough renewable power to run the truck and automotive repair business that is part of Spaur Ranch.

“He also pressurized his irrigation pipes, saving him costs on pumping,” Jowaiszas said. “Spaur’s irrigation improvements are saving him between $10,000-$12,000 a year in energy costs.”

Spaur secured $137,000 cash incentive from Energy Trust, plus grants from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program to offset the cost of pressurizing irrigation pipes and installing the two micro-hydro turbines.

Energy Trust encourages farmers and ranchers to check into ways they can partner with Energy Trust on energy efficiency upgrades. These especially apply to greenhouses, where energy-efficient lighting, heating systems and insulation can significantly lower the costs of indoor growing; and on farm equipment.

“We offer incentives for energy-efficient equipment like compressed air, heating and cooling, lighting, motors and drives and insulation,” Jowaiszas said. “We find that there are always new ways we can help a farmer or rancher save on their energy consumption or generate renewable energy on their property.”

“Although every farm, its topography and its needs are different, Vern Spaur is a great example of what a farmer or rancher could achieve through on-farm renewable energy generation,” Jowaiszas said. “By pressurizing the irrigation pipes on the ranch and taking advantage of micro-hydropower, Vern is generating all the power he needs — and then some.

“Saving money on their energy bills means farmers like Vern can reinvest in their operations — whether that’s new equipment or other farm improvements,” Jowaiszas said.

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