Northwest hydro costs in line with North American benchmarks

Bonneville Power Administration reports a benchmarking study found 29 hydroelectric projects in the Pacific Northwest compared favorably for overall costs of operation to similar facilities throughout North America.

However, the study by Atlanta-based HJA Consulting found public affairs and regulatory costs of the Northwest projects to be a little on the high side, largely due to fish mitigation, recreation, and visitor operations.

BPA and six operators of 29 dams participated in the study to determine how the dams compared to those of similar size in the region and in North America. In developing the 27-page report, HJA drew on its 11 years of benchmarking 322 hydro stations, consisting of 1,254 units representing 87,000 MW.

The 29 Northwest dams included 12 from the Corps of Engineers, four from the Bureau of Reclamation, three from Chelan County Public Utility District, three from Tacoma Power, five from Seattle City Light, and two from Grant County Public Utility District.

Public Affairs, Regulatory Costs: The study found many Northwest projects are at, or above, the North American average of $15,519 per MW for public affairs and regulatory costs. Those costs represent 49 percent of benchmarked costs and include fish and wildlife, recreation, taxes, and licensing, the report said. In the case of the Federal Columbia River Power System stations — the Corps and BuRec dams — those costs included $156 million per year paid by BPA.

Maintenance, Support: Most of the stations in the Northwest were at, or below, cost averages for plant maintenance (67 cents/MWh large stations, $2.88/MWh small stations) and administrative support functions ($40,000 per station full-time equivalent). For waterways and dam maintenance, the Northwest dams were well below the North American average of more than $100,000 per unit, with only two exceptions.

Operations: The operations function includes all in-station operations, as well as costs for water management and generation dispatch. Northwest station operations cost an average of $183,000 per generating unit, which the report said is similar to their North American peers. Of those costs, about $53,000 per unit, or 29 percent, is associated with water management and generation dispatch. A small amount of operations cost is for station service, the power used within the station during normal operations.

Opportunity seen for automation savings

The study found the majority of Federal Columbia River Power System stations — the Corps and BuRec dams — were no more or less costly than other projects in the region. It noted, however, the federal facilities “have a significant opportunity for reducing operations costs through automation.”

It said many small and medium-sized FCRPS stations with staffed control rooms have significantly higher costs than automated stations in their peer groups, and that medium and large stations might also derive some cost improvements from an integrated automation strategy. BPA’s May 31 announcement said such automation already is under consideration for the federal plants.

The Northwest Regional Benchmarking Study, is on the Internet at

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