A power plant near Kapowsin that’s been generating electricity since 1904 may change owners in a move that its seller believes will be good for customers.
Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is preparing to sell the small, 109-year-old hydroelectric plant and then purchase the facility’s power output from the new owner, Electron Hydro LLC.
In filings June 10 with state utility regulators, PSE indicated the proposed transaction would give PSE’s customers competitively priced power from the Electron plant over the next 20 years when compared to other electricity sources. The benefit to customers reflects both the price of the power PSE would acquire, as well as the expense PSE would avoid from upgrading the aged facility, according to the Bellevue-based utility company.
“Electron has served our customers well for a long, long time, and under (the proposed) arrangement, the project will continue to give them clean, low-cost power for years to come,” said Paul Wiegand, a PSE senior vice president. “The only discernible difference will be the company name displayed on the plant.”
PSE is asking the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize the sale and a 20-year agreement for PSE to buy power from Electron Hydro. The sale is contingent on regulatory approval.
The Electron Hydroelectric Project, as PSE calls it, is located in the western foothills of Mount Rainier, near Kapowsin and about 30 miles southeast of Tacoma. Four turbine generators have a capacity of about 26 megawatts, officials said. Water used to help generate electricity is drawn from the Puyallup River and funneled 10 miles downstream to the Electron powerhouse via a wooden flume high along the river’s winding valley. The flume feeds as much as 400 cubic feet of water per second to the plant’s man-made reservoir, which stores 120 acre-feet of water.
PSE officials said that despite upgrades of the facility over the years, the worn condition of the flume limits the plant’s production of power to less than eight megawatts, which is about one-third of its peak generating capacity. Electron Hydro plans to return the powerhouse to full production. It has the potential to supply about 17,000 households, officials said.
The flume itself is critical to maintenance of the water flow system. Officials said a rail line atop the flume shuttles maintenance workers and equipment in “speeder cars” and is jokingly known as “the crookedest railway in the world.”
Under terms of its proposed acquisition, Electron Hydro is offering to hire the 14 PSE employees who currently maintain and operate the facility.
In addition to employment, the plant provides another local economic benefit, according to PSE: Property tax on the facility supports schools, roads and other public services in Pierce County.
Besides the Electron=Kapowsin plant, PSE owns and operates two larger hydroelectric facilities – one at Snoqualmie Falls, near North Bend, and one on the Baker River in northwest Washington. Redevelopment of the Snoqualmie Falls facility is boosting its generating capacity to 54 megawatts, from the previous 44. And a new, second powerhouse at Lower Baker Dam will increase that plant’s generating capacity to 200 megawatts, 30 more than its current maximum..
The electricity sold to customers through PSE comes from its own facilities or other suppliers and is produced by hydropower (the largest source), wind power, natural gas-fired generation, and coal-fired power. The latter is produced in Montana.
PSE has about 1 million electricity customers and more than 760,000 natural-gas customers in 10 Washington counties, including Pierce.