By Mike Federman

Depending on where you live, the primary source of electricity varies greatly. In the Northwest, hydropower is king. In the Great Basin, coal is widely used. In Alaska, diesel plays an important role.

But these primary resources are supplemented by numerous other types of electrical generation that are owned and operated by small, locally owned utilities.

Consumers of public power in the Northwest—who depend on low-cost, renewable energy from federal hydroelectric dams—might not realize that nearly 10 percent of their electricity comes from nuclear power produced at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Washington.

That nuclear power is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, but the 1,150-megawatt nuclear plant is owned by Energy Northwest, a coalition of public Washington utilities, including Klickitat PUD and Kittitas PUD.

Energy Northwest also owns a hydro project at Packwood Lake, a wind farm and a small solar station.

Green Energy

Besides enjoying the benefits of these systems, Klickitat PUD also co-owns with Northern Wasco PUD of The Dalles, Oregon, a small hydro project within the larger hydro complex at McNary Dam on the Columbia River; with Tanner Electric Cooperative of North Bend, Washington, a portion of the
205-MW White Creek Wind Farm; and has sole ownership of the H.W. Hill landfill gas facility in eastern Klickitat County.

KPUD and Tanner Electric bundle their output of White Creek into an energy package sold on the open market at a premium, reserving the lower-priced wholesale power purchased from BPA for their consumers.

Both utilities have the versatility of using White Creek power to cover baseload growth should it make financial sense in the future.

A second publicly owned landfill gas project in the Northwest is Coffin Butte near Corvallis, Oregon. This 5.66-megawatt renewable energy project is operated for the benefit of electric cooperatives that are part of PNGC Power, a generation and transmission cooperative that helps its members manage their power resources.

The capacity at Coffin Butte was doubled in 2007 after consumers showed strong support for renewable energy. The project has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most efficient plants in the country.

Solar Power

Okanogan County Electric Cooperative of Winthrop, Washington, and Umatilla Electric Cooperative of Hermiston, Oregon, recently added solar energy to their renewable portfolios.

In 2010, OCEC took advantage of Washington state legislation that allows for a utility-owned solar energy system that is voluntarily funded by ratepayers.

Building the first system of its kind under the Washington State Renewable Energy Cost Recovery program, OCEC had a 20.28-kilowatt photovoltaic array installed near its office.

Participating ratepayers receive a cost-recovery incentive payment per kilowatt-hour for their share of the energy produced for 10 years. Recovery payments come from funds OCEC otherwise would pay to the state as excise taxes on retail power sales.

In 2009, UEC had a solar energy demonstration project installed next to its office headquarters. The 52.5-kilowatt
photovoltaic array allowed UEC to offset more than 10 percent of the office building’s total electricity use in 2010.

“We’re gaining institutional knowledge about photovoltaic systems and how they operate,” says Nate Rivera, UEC community relations representative. “Solar has a lot of potential for UEC and our members if the costs continue to decline.”


While there has been a push for developing new resources, such as wind and solar, hydropower remains a staple for Northwest utilities.

In addition to the hydropower it buys from BPA, Northern Lights Inc. of Sagle, Idaho, owns the Lake Creek Hydroelectric Project in Lincoln County, Montana.

The first of two Lake Creek powerhouses was built in 1917. The facility’s capacity grew to 4.5 MW after a second powerhouse was built in 1949.

“Since 1996, Northern Lights’ Lake Creek Hydroelectric Project has served approximately 10 percent of the cooperative’s load at low cost, and in an environmentally friendly manner,” says NLI General Manager Jon Shelby.


One of the public power hallmarks is using energy efficiently to conserve resources. Nowhere is this principle more focused than at the High Sierra Cogeneration Power Plant in Susanville, California.

The 6-MW power plant was brought online last year by owner Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative of Portola. The natural-gas fired plant will provide up to 20 percent of the co-op’s energy needs, and is the first utility-owned cogeneration facility in California.

In addition to generating electricity, the High Sierra facility uses the waste heat produced by its two engines to heat water for the nearby High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center. This added efficiency allows PSREC to receive credit for emissions reductions, which will help reduce the cost of compliance with pending state and federal climate regulations.

“The High Sierra Cogeneration Power Plant provides much- needed voltage support and line loss reduction, while adding additional capacity to help restore service to our members during winter storms,” says Jim Rice, PSREC’s electric technical services manager. “The plant also supplies competitively priced power that is not subject to transmission charges levied by California, thereby helping the cooperative to control the cost of power.”