The city of Bend will take a look at the possibility of adding in-pipe hydroelectric power generation to its Bridge Creek water system, thanks to a suggestion from City Councilor Nathan Boddie. Giving the sidelined project another look makes sense, with a couple of caveats.
City officials, including the Council, must be absolutely open about what they learn, whether or not additional information changes their view of the potential for hydropower.
Too, the Council must approach the idea of adding hydro with eyes wide open.
The Bridge Creek project has been on City Council agendas for at least eight years. Changes in clean-water rules, the threat of wildfire and a growing community combined to require improvements to the surface-water system. Pipes carrying water from Bridge Creek to Bend, 10 miles away, were old and needed replacing.
As far back as 2009, serious consideration was given to adding hydroelectric power generation to the project as a way to help defray its costs. Doing so, proponents believed, would help ease the burden on water customers whose rates would go up to pay for the improvements to the existing system.
In the end, it was obvious the financial benefits were far less than hoped. A projected $1.7 million annually in income from hydro sales dropped by $1 million. And, adding a $14 million hydro plant would drive water rates up too much. The proposal was shelved.
Boddie asked at the Oct. 18 Council work session if it might not be time to reconsider the project. He did not ask for a full-blown re-examination, but rather a quick review that could give councilors a sense of whether or not they wish to proceed further.
His idea makes sense. Times change — so do the costs and benefits of such things as in-pipe hydropower. The city could, or could not, have a valuable resource waiting to be tapped.
But as officials learned in the original Bridge Creek project, unless the public is kept informed every step of the way and councilors are level-headed about both the benefits and drawbacks of a project, even the best idea won’t get off the ground.