R&D Forum

Research indicates record salmon returns in Columbia River basin

Conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest are paying off as record numbers of sockeye salmon are returning to the Columbia River.

So far this year, nearly 300,000 Okanagan sockeye salmon have swum up the fish ladder at Bonneville Lock and Dam, while chinook, coho, chums, pinks and steelhead are also expected to return in large numbers. Records show fewer than 9,000 of the above named species returned to the Columbia Basin in 1995, and the Okanagan sockeye – a type particularly difficult to rear in hatcheries – were quickly dwindling.

Although some of the fish population’s increase can be attributed to natural factors such as favorable ocean conditions, biologists say habitat improvements made at many hydroelectric facilities have also been a significant ingredient in the fish resurgence.

Not only have utilities and hydropower plant owners begun providing more natural spawning areas in their facilities’ designs, but also they have developed flow schedules that give roe a better chance of surviving.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the 1,076.6-MW Bonneville project, currently is undertaking fish ladder improvements to address lamprey passage at the dam.

Renewables barely displacing fossil fuels, study indicates

Although we understand that renewable generating technologies need to be developed to reduce the use of fossil fuels, in reality this displacement is not occurring, according to a letter published in the June issue of Nature Climate Change.

Author Richard York, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Environmental Studies Program at the University of Oregon, says each unit of energy from non-fossil-fueled energy sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity over the past 50 years.

In his analysis, York reviews past energy use and electricity generation from fossil fuels and non-fossil fuel sources: hydropower, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind, tidal and wave, combustible renewables and waste. Data is analyzed from 132 countries.

York created four models, two for electricity production from fossil-fuel sources and two for total national energy use (transportation and electricity generation) from fossil-fuel sources.

The first two models examined electricity production. The first model controlled for demand using per capita gross domestic product. The theory was that economic production is generally considered the primary force driving energy use. The second model added variables to further control for demand, such as urbanization, manufacturing and the ratio of dependents (under 16 and over 64) to non-dependents in the population. This model was limited to the past 30 years because of the need for more complex data and included 128 countries.

Models 3 and 4 examined total energy use. Model 3 used only GDP to control for demand, while model 4 included the additional control variables mentioned with regard to the second model.

In the first model, each kWh of electricity generated from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced only 0.089 kWh of that from fossil fuels. The second model revealed displacement of 0.079 kWh of electricity. Looking at the third and fourth models, each unit of energy from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced 0.128 and 0.219 units from fossil fuel sources respectively.

York also performed analyses based on the category of energy source. Using a model with only GDP to control for demand, York found that each kWh of nuclear displaced 0.221 kWh of fossil, hydro displaced 0.099 kWh, and non-hydro renewables did not displace fossil fuels. Controlling for the other variables mentioned above, York determined nuclear displaced 0.163 kWh, hydro 0.086 kWh, and non-hydro renewables again did not displace fossil fuels.

The author indicates that while alternative energy sources do displace fossil fuels, it is a modest displacement and is probably attributable in part to an established energy system where there is a lock-in to using fossil fuels as the base energy source because of their long-standing prevalence and existing infrastructure and to the political and economic power of the fossil fuel industry.

The bottom line: If the pattern that has characterized energy use over the past five decades prevails in the future, massive expansion of non-fossil-fuel energy sources will be required to significantly suppress fossil fuel use.

Study plan submitted for 600-MW Susitna-Watana project

Alaska Energy Authority filed a proposed study plan in July to assess potential effects of its proposed 600-MW Susitna-Watana project on Alaska’s upper Susitna River.

The plan includes 58 individual studies of the proposed dam site and surrounding area, 184 miles up the Susitna River above Devils Canyon. The plan is part of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing process to ensure the project meets environmental and safety standards.

FERC initiated a scoping process in March to develop an environmental impact statement for the project, which AEA has been studying under a FERC preliminary permit.

The authority is to continue to work with stakeholders, hosting workshops on specific study plans. It is to submit an updated study plan in November, with a FERC determination on the plan expected in December.

AEA proposes a rockfill or concrete gravity dam 700 to 800 feet tall and with a crest length of at least 2,700 feet. It would create a 39-mile-long reservoir 90 river-miles northeast of Talkeetna, Alaska.

Based on ongoing feasibility studies and updates to Alaska’s Railbelt Integrated Resource Plan, the project’s capacity could be as large as 800 MW. Power is to be transmitted north to the interior and south to south-central Alaska along new and existing transmission lines.

University to develop Columbia-Snake fish passage model

The federal government has selected the University of Washington in Seattle to negotiate for continuing development of the Comprehensive Passage Model (COMPASS), simulating the migration of juvenile salmon through the Columbia and Snake river hydropower system.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the university was chosen to negotiate an additional contract for COMPASS because it has been involved in the program since its inception and has contributed substantially to model development and data analysis.

“The University of Washington is qualified to contribute to the project in a timely manner,” NOAA says. “No other vendor has the accumulated experience, knowledge, and expertise to continue development of the comprehensive passage model of the migration of the juvenile salmon through the Snake and Columbia rivers.”

COMPASS simulates fish passage and survival over many years relative to hydrology and dam operational rules. It is intended to predict effects of alternative dam operations on salmon survival rates and can be used to assist in the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion.

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Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

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