The Wells Project is a “run-of-the-river” hydroelectric project, meaning that it uses stream flow primarily as it occurs and has limited water storage capacity to regulate stream flow on a daily or weekly basis. Reservoir fluctuations and power generation are largely driven by the discharge of water from Chief Joseph Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Wells Dam has ten generating units with an installed nameplate capacity of 774,300 kW and a maximum capacity of 840,000 kW. The Wells Project has a water right for 220,000 cfs for power production with an impoundment right of 331,200 acre-feet. The Wells Project is authorized to maintain its reservoir level between elevation 781 and 771 feet above sea level for normal operations and typically operates within the full authorized range during any given year for power and non-power purposes. On a daily basis, the Wells Reservoir typically operates within a relatively narrow range of elevation from 779 to 780.5 feet.
Operation of the Wells Project is affected by the following factors: (a) FERC license requirements; (b) natural stream flows; (c) regulation of upstream storage reservoirs in the United States and Canada; (d) regulation of water releases from upstream power projects on an hourly basis to meet changing power demands; (e) actions in response to fish, wildlife and other environmental regulations; and (f) variable power demands for use within Douglas and Okanogan counties and under the long-term power sales contracts.
The Wells Project is operated in a coordinated manner with other regional hydroelectric projects. The regulation of upstream reservoirs in the United States and Canada has been governed increasingly over the past decade to meet federal objectives for protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife. The regulation of the upstream reservoirs in the United States and Canada is also governed by the 1997 Pacific Northwest Coordination Agreement (PNCA), the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada relating to the cooperative development of the Columbia River and its tributaries, and numerous other multi-purpose functions authorized by law such as power, flood control, navigation, recreation and water quality. The Wells Project benefits from the storage dams located in the U.S. and Canada by virtue of its location downstream.
Douglas PUD is required by Article 38 of the Wells Project License to use the improved stream flow from Canadian storage for power production purposes and to make available to the Federal system for delivery to Canada, or for its account, the Wells Project’s share of coordinated system benefits resulting from such improved stream flow. Consistent with this requirement, Douglas PUD entered into agreements in 1964 (now expired) and 1997 with the Bonneville Power Administration setting forth the share of Canadian benefits apportioned to the Wells Project until September 15, 2024 in the form of power and associated energy deliveries.
The purpose of the PNCA is to optimize the firm load carrying capability of the sixteen parties’ resources coordinated under the agreement, including Wells, and to produce optimal amounts of usable “secondary” energy from those resources. Importantly, the PNCA also sets forth a procedure approved by the FERC for apportioning costs to be borne by the Wells Project for the benefit of improved stream flow regulation provided by the upstream storage reservoirs in the United States, consistent with Article 47 of the Wells license.
Douglas PUD is a party to another agreement with the operators of six other federal and non-federal dams located both upstream and downstream of Wells for a 20-year term through June 30, 2017, known as the Mid-Columbia Hourly Coordination Agreement. Originally conceived in response to finding a means of protecting Wells and other downstream projects from adverse effects of “peaking” operations at the upstream federal projects, the stated primary objective of this agreement is to obtain an optimum amount of energy from available water consistent with power and non-power needs. The regulation of power projects to meet the changing hourly loads of the parties involved in this agreement also affects the operation of the Wells Project.
The construction of the Wells Project increased the tailwater elevation at the Chief Joseph Hydroelectric Project, which reduced the hydraulic head available for its generation. Douglas PUD entered into an agreement in 1968 with the Corps of Engineers to compensate the federal system for power loss due to Wells Project encroachment (Encroachment Agreement, 1968), consistent with Article 32 of the Wells Project License. The agreement was supplemented in 1982 when FERC approved raising the elevation of the Wells Reservoir from elevation 779 to elevation 781 (Supplement Agreement, 1982).
Additional agreements affecting operation of the Wells Project include the Vernita Bar Settlement Agreement approved by FERC on December 9, 1988 and its successor, the Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Protection Program Agreement, which was submitted to FERC by Grant PUD on April 19, 2004 and is awaiting approval. Parties to the Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Protection Program Agreement include Grant PUD, Chelan PUD, Douglas PUD, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), WDFW, CCT and BPA. The agreement is designed to extend until the end of the new license term for the Priest Rapids Project. These agreements require that the three PUDs and BPA provide acceptable protection for fall Chinook salmon at Vernita Bar, downstream of the Priest Rapids Project. Specifically, Douglas PUD may be called upon to release a limited amount of water from Wells, under certain circumstances and during certain times of the year, in cooperation with prescribed federal upstream and non-federal downstream project water releases to help adult spawning, incubation, and emergence of fall Chinook salmon downstream from the Priest Rapids Project.
The Wells Project transmission lines have sufficient capacity to fully integrate the Wells power output into local electric distribution systems and the Pacific Northwest’s high-voltage transmission system. Wells Project transmission is operated consistent with applicable national, regional and sub-regional standards and practices.
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