The first of 16 new and more efficient turbine runners being installed at Chief Joseph Dam has completed its first assessment hurdle and entered the 100-day commercial testing phase Saturday, Jan. 22.
Over the weekend the turbine passed its 72-hour test with no issues, clearing the way to begin the 100-day commercial test during which it will generate commercial power at the hydropower dam on the Columbia River near Bridgeport, Wash.
The new 45-ton turbine runner, manufactured and installed by Alstom Hydro under contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, measures more than eight feet high and is 16 feet in diameter. It is the first of 16 new turbine runners to be installed at Chief Joseph by 2017.
A runner is the central part of a hydroelectric turbine that rotates under the action of water to generate electric power. The new runners and related turbine component repairs and replacements will increase the dam's annual power generation by more than 50 megawatts and boost the efficiency of the turbines to 95 percent or better. That is enough to power more than 30,000 additional Northwest homes compared to the 60-year-old runners being replaced.
During the 100-day test, the runner will be on-line generating commercial power while undergoing performance and efficiency testing.
The Bonneville Power Administration is financing the upgrades through an agreement with the Corps as authorized by the National Energy Policy Act of 1992, under which a portion of revenues from rate payers for hydropower generated at federal dams can be reinvested to operate, maintain and improve the federal generation projects. No congressionally appropriated tax payer dollars are being used for this project.
Federal officials say the approximately $165 million in turbine upgrades at Chief Joseph will help the agencies that operate the hydropower system produce more energy while protecting salmon and steelhead. The more efficient stainless steel turbines also experience less wear, reducing maintenance and unscheduled outage costs that otherwise add to power rates.
"We're upgrading the system with the latest and most efficient technology just as people at home are switching to more efficient appliances. It's a great, cost effective investment with a quick and high financial return and good for the environment," said Stuart Cook, chief of Operations Division, Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Chief Joseph Dam is the second-largest hydropower producing dam in the United States and the largest operated by the Corps. BPA markets and distributes power from Chief Joseph and other federal dams to Northwest utilities.