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The second of two micro hydropower plants was installed on the Spaur Ranch in Lostine in October 2016. The plants help power the ranch’s businesses.

ENTERPRISE — For more than 100 years, hydropower has brought electricity to Wallowa County farms. This fall, Community Solutions Inc., is encouraging landowners with streams, ditches, canals or piped water moving over their property to schedule a hydropower assessment.

Matt King, Renewable Energy Program manager, said now is a good time to have an assessment conducted because Community Solutions and Energy Trust of Oregon are wrapping up a comprehensive analysis of Wallowa County’s hydro development potential as part of an update of a 10-year study.

“We are trying to map out, and get an idea, where the highest potential for hydro projects might be,” King said.

Community Solutions staff have always been available for initial assessments, but King said now is an especially good time as the countywide inventory is being completed. He said it starts with a phone call.

“After that preliminary call, if it warrants further evaluation, one of us will go out and have a look and do a scoping study at no cost,” King said.

An assessment looks at how much elevation a farm ditch might have; if it’s too flat, that will immediately eliminate the possibility of a hydropower installation, King said. How much water savings could be realized also is taken into account as well as ease of development.

“In some cases, a landowner can save water through piping a ditch, there can be a benefit of timing of water delivery for aquatic species and can give people the ability to add storage and island a house or group of houses in case of an outage,” King said.

The countywide assessment was scheduled for completion by the end of this year, but King said it will now likely be finished by early spring. Assessments will be added to an expanded inventory of potential small hydro projects that could be tied to the existing electric grid and lower landowner power costs.

The county’s history of micro hydropower generation dates back to the early 20th century. In 1921, numerous small hydropower plants were replaced by the Wallowa Falls Hydroplant above Wallowa Lake that ultimately powered four different valley towns.

The topography and water flows that allowed those early hydro projects are still here and King said he believes locally owned micro hydro can once again benefit the county with the economic development value of keeping energy dollars local; maintaining essential services during emergencies or natural disasters when the power grid goes down or is shut off; and by using natural resources in ways that sustain the community.

King said regulations on hydro development have become more streamlined for small- and micro-sized projects and new proposed legislation looks even more favorable, speeding development time and lowering costs. In addition, net-metering changes are creating new markets for that energy and new, more affordable and more efficient hydropower technology is available.

Best of all, King said, costs have come down overall. He said small hydro can also help better manage streams flows to improve fish habitat, provide educational opportunities for youths and bring in new funding to improve local irrigation infrastructure.

In 2010 Community Solutions, with funding from Energy Trust of Oregon, did a small hydro-electric scoping study for the county that identified 22 potential hydro project sites in the existing irrigation systems using a basic evaluation method. Since then, three projects have been developed — two projects on the Spaur farm between Lostine and Wallowa and one for the Wallowa Lake County Service District. King said development activity at more than 10 sites is currently underway.

The two organizations teamed up again to redo and expand the original study to reconsider original sites and add new sites, look at future sites within new piping systems, build a database of prioritized projects to better determine development order and create a process that can be replicated in other areas.

To best include the perspectives of landowners, water users and managers, local business, government agencies and tribal interests. The stakeholders help conduct one-on-one and small-group conversations with community members, make key decisions and set up informational meetings.

On Dec. 3 King said the first of a four-part series on renewable energy in Wallowa County will be available online via the Wallowa Resources website, www.wallowaresources.org.

To determine if a project is eligible visit https://preview.tinyurl.com/WallowaHydro. For more questions Joe Basile, CSI’s Renewable Energy project manager, is available by email at joe@wallowaresources.org or by phone at 541-561-4426.

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