Micro-hydropower: Going with the flow


Increasing numbers of Wallowa County landowners are looking in to the potential of micro-hydropower.

“There is a lot of water coming out of the mountains; being able to harvest that energy in a low-impact way offers a real benefit to the community in terms of landowner bottom line, county resilience and sustainable natural resource utilization,” said Kyle Petrocine, renewable energy coordinator at Wallowa Resources.

Even small sources of flowing water — ditches, pipelines and municipal delivery systems — can work for micro-hydropower if they have sufficient flow and head. Flow is a measure of how much water comes through the intake, while head refers to the vertical distance between the water intake and the turbine.

In a micro-hydropower system, water spins turbines attached to generators to produce less than 100 kilowatts of energy. The projects are low-impact, maximize the use of local water for renewable energy, and can substantially offset electricity costs.

Irrigation systems are one good point of entry into micro-hydropower because the water is free of fish. Channeling irrigation water through hydroelectric generators makes double use of it, and mountainous terrain means there are many candidates for project sites thanks to gravity flow.

“It is great to use a renewable resource in a nonā€consumptive way,” said Wallowa farmer Vern Spaur, who installed a hydroelectric generator in conjunction with his irrigation system three years ago and is now putting in a second micro-hydro project.

Feasibility studies are underway on four local irrigation systems and several individual project sites throughout the county, while a handful of projects have reached the design and engineering phase.

The irrigation system feasibility studies are being run by Wallowa Resources as part of the Irrigation Modernization Campaign, which aims to achieve optimal irrigation efficiency through partnerships. Increased efficiency means meeting the needs of the farmer with less water loss, while also leaving more water in stream. Additional aims of the project include agricultural resilience, rural economic development and environmental enhancement.