Rye Development plans to build a new pumped hydro energy storage facility at this site. The lower reservoir would be located on the the low hill (left, middle distance), while the upper reservoir would be built up on the ridge (right, snowy ridge top).

Rye Development plans to build a new pumped hydro energy storage facility at this site. The lower reservoir would be located on the the low hill (left, middle distance), while the upper reservoir would be built up on the ridge (right, snowy ridge top).

Jes Burns/OPB

Federal energy regulators granted approval and a license Tuesday to an energy storage project near Klamath Falls, Oregon. It’s the first facility of its kind in decades to be licensed in the Pacific Northwest and, if built, will be the largest energy storage facility in the region.

Developers of Swan Lake North pumped storage plan to build a new reservoir system to store electricity from the grid. When electricity is plentiful and inexpensive, pumps will push water to a 60-acre reservoir high on a hill. Then when demand rises, the facility will release that water over turbines to a lower reservoir. As with a hydroelectric dam, the spinning turbines generate electricity that can then be fed back to supplement the grid.

The $800 million project has a 393-megawatt capacity — enough to meet the instantaneous demand of up to 390,000 homes.

Tuesday’s approval comes one day before the public gets a chance to weigh in on a separate, potentially much larger pumped-hydro project elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

That project would be developed outside the south-central Washington city of Goldendale.

Rye Development and National Grid Ventures are working to develop both the Swan Lake and Goldendale Energy storage projects.

“We are very pleased that the [Federal Energy Regulatory] Commission has issued a 50-year construction and operational license for the project and we look forward to the next phase of development,” said Rye Development Vice President Erik Steimle in an email statement.

Bringing this kind of grid storage online has widely been seen as necessary to the development of alternative energy sources like wind and solar, which don’t continuously produce electricity.

Swan Lake North is located about 10 miles northeast of Klamath Falls in a rural farming area. Neighbors organized to oppose the project. Their primary concern is the planned construction of 33 miles of new high voltage power lines that will run across federal and private land. The lines are likely to disrupt farm practices and local views.

Dan Cohan, who lives along the power line path, said the approval of the project has been expected in the community. Cohan’s primary concern is the effect the power lines will have on migratory birds in the area. The region is a major stop-over for the Pacific Flyway, one of the major migratory bird paths in the country.

“I think there is going to be an impact,” Cohan said. “They’re going to have bird strikes on the infrastructure and the power lines — just because of the sheer density of waterfowl and migratory birds that occur in this area.”

He still hopes, despite Swan Lake being granted a license, the company will do more to protect birds and farm life in the area.

Steimle said Swan Lake North will move into the pre-construction phase, which includes contracting and equipment procurement for the project.

A view near the proposed upper reservoir of the Goldendale Energy Storage project.

A view near the proposed upper reservoir of the Goldendale Energy Storage project.

Courtesy of Rye Development

The proposed pumped hydro storage project in Goldendale would have three times the storage capacity as Swan Lake.

Rye Development and National Grid are hosting two public meetings Wednesday at the Goldendale Grange Hall to talk about the project and answer questions.

The first meeting will be from 1-2:30 p.m. There will be a site visit from 3-4 p.m. A second meeting will take place from 7-9 p.m.

Each newly built reservoir in the Goldendale project would be about 60 acres in size. The pipe (also known as a penstock) and power house are underground. The capacity of the project is 1,200 megawatts.

People have tried to develop energy storage projects at the Goldendale site for almost 40 years, Steimle said. He said this site has been considered one of the top two locations in the West to build a project like this.

The geography and geology are just right, with almost 2,000 feet of vertical elevation difference between the two reservoirs. It’s also close to the Bonneville Power Administration’s existing transmission lines.

Up until now, he said, natural gas has been too cheap to justify building a pumped hydro site.

That’s changing as Washington and Oregon make plans to transition to clean energy.

Washington lawmakers just signed legislation requiring that all of the electricity produced in the state must come from non-carbon emitting sources by 2045. Oregon is requiring 50 percent renewable energy production by 2040.

“[Natural gas] is not going to be available as an option for new capacity moving forward. So that’s where storage comes in,” Steimle said.

But not everyone has been as enthusiastic about the project, according to a document about the companies’ notification of intent to file for a license. Several tribes, including the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, have stated concerns about potential harm the project could case to cultural resources.

The U.S. Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association said their group members might not be able to continue to use the site if this project is built.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said a golden eagle nest is nearby and was concerned the reservoirs could attract other eagles.

If all goes according to plan, developers expect the project to be running by 2028.