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Pending approval, work could start this year on a new, energy project near Klamath Falls

An energy project northeast of Klamath Falls will be one of the first new pumped storage hydroelectric systems in the U.S. in 30 years. Developers announced last week the project design is finished.

The Swan Lake energy storage project will use two artificial lakes at different elevations, pumping water uphill when there’s extra power in the grid, and letting it run downhill through turbines when energy demand is high.

These projects are a critical puzzle piece in the future of renewable energy infrastructure, since wind turbines and solar panels don’t provide power consistently.

Erik Steimle from the company building the project, Rye Development, said more and more renewable energy is being built in the region.

“Having this project available in the late 2020s, early 2030s is really the time period when more and more utilities are needing this type of energy storage in the system to balance out intermittent renewables and provide reliable grid services,” said Steimle.

The project is owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, which is also developing one of the first offshore wind energy projects on the West Coast, off Northern California’s Humboldt Bay. Steimle said Swan Lake will work with utilities to act as a kind of electricity bank. Local utilities will be able to use the pumped storage facility to store extra power, and to draw from it when needed to fill in energy gaps.

Steimle said it’s a more long-lasting storage system than lithium-ion batteries, which need replacement around every 15 years.

“Once you build it, you can essentially cycle it over and over again with very little degradation to the system,” he said.

But, the project faces opposition from the local Klamath Tribes, who are concerned about damage construction poses to a culturally significant area, including possible burial sites. Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners has offered a $40 million compensation package to the tribe.

According to the Klamath Tribes News, those opposed are concerned about giving up their right to sue if something happens in the future. Other members who see the money as a significant boost to tribal initiatives are trying to put the offer to a vote by all tribal members.

Steimle says the project will be able to provide around 9.5 hours of electricity for 125,000 homes.

Construction will begin this year, pending final approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This project will be one of the first new pumped storage projects in decades. Many of the current pumped storage hydroelectric facilities in use today were built in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As of 2023, only three projects including Swan Lake had been granted licenses by FERC. 96 total projects are in the development pipeline, but they’re further behind in the process.

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