US$200 million rehabilitation and upgrade for 428-MW Hungry Horse hydroelectric project in Montana

Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are conducting an environmental assessment on an estimated US$200 million rehabilitation and upgrade project for the 428-MW Hungry Horse hydroelectric facility located on the south fork of the Flathead River about 15 miles outside Glacier National Park in western Montana.

Chris Vick, project manager out of the Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest Regional Office said if all goes according to plan, work could begin in 2017 and be completed as early as 2025.

The project includes a dam and appurtenant works, reservoir, powerhouse and switchyard. The project’s 564-foot-tall by 2,115-foot-long concrete arch dam stores nearly 3.5 million acre-feet of water.

Reclamation said this would be the largest project undertaken at the facility since it opened in 1952 and would likely include replacing the powerhouse’s four turbines.

“[Units 1-4] are pretty much reaching the end of their expected life,” Vick said. “You want to get ahead of that before you start breaking down and you’re in repair mode constantly.”

Reclamation plans to replace the following: switchgear and an extensive amount of related electrical equipment; the governor and excitation systems; five of the dam’s six cranes; and if needed, the facility’s four Francis turbines.

As part of the ongoing environmental assessment, Reclamation will install ultrasonic flowmeter systems for four penstocks to test turbine efficiency. Test results will help determine whether to replace or repair the units.

According to Vick, replacing the turbines could increase the generation capacity of the facility, but [power] demand in the valley would be the limiting factor.

The Bonneville Power Administration, a federal nonprofit agency based in the Pacific Northwest, would cover the costs to modernize the facility. BPA is self-funding and markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin, one nonfederal nuclear plant and several other small nonfederal power plants.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Glacier National Park have expressed support for the project, but asked Reclamation to consider any negative impacts the modernization would pose to aquatic life.

Hungry Horse is a key project in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s long-range program for multiple-purpose development of the water resources of the vast Columbia River drainage basin.

The dam creates a large reservoir by withholding water in times of heavy runoff to minimize downstream flooding. This stored water is released for power generation when the natural flow of the river is low.

Downstream power benefits are of major importance since more than five times as much power can be produced from water releases downstream than is produced at Hungry Horse.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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