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Idaho’s Cat Creek Energy and Water Project: A Major Planned Pumped Storage and Generation Facility

Idaho’s Cat Creek Energy and Water Project: A Major Planned Pumped Storage and Generation Facility

The proposed site for the upper reservoir of the Cat Creek pumped storage facility.

The proposed site for the upper reservoir of the Cat Creek pumped storage facility.

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The Cat Creek Energy & Water project (CCEW) is a major pumped storage and renewable energy generation project that is scheduled to be built north of Mountain Home, Idaho, on the South Fork of the Boise River. The project, which will use the Bureau of Reclamation’s Anderson Ranch Reservoir as its lower reservoir, will have a total of 1,100 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity—380 MW of on- and offsite wind and solar and 720 MW of pumped storage hydropower—and its large upper reservoir will be able to support 5 full days of full hydropower generation. CCEW has just signed several contracts with Voith Hydro to design, manufacture, install, and maintain its state-of-the-art ternary pumped storage equipment. In this interview, Cat Creek’s public policy advisor, Peggy Beltrone, tells Hydro Leader about how the project will help integrate renewables into the energy grid, capture and store water, and generate clean energy for the future.

Hydro Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Peggy Beltrone: I’ve taken an unusual route to clean energy development and what I believe is the West’s most consequential energy and water project of the century— CCEW. My first job after college was in television news in Great Falls, Montana. Later, when I saw that I could do more inside of government than reporting on it, I won a seat on the Cascade County commission. After years of making tough budget decisions that often had me choosing between law enforcement and public health or libraries and food banks, I searched for extra funds for county services in wind energy. I also saw it as a smart way to bring jobs to our community.

Our county’s economy was anchored by another renewable energy source: hydropower. Taxes levied on five NorthWestern Energy dams along the Missouri River funded almost one-third of our rural area services. In a county with powerful class 4 wind, it just made sense that my budgeting job would be easier with more high-value clean energy. I worked with our staff to create a wind energy marketing program to attract wind development. The effort worked. In the early 2000s, a local construction materials contractor began development on a 9 MW wind facility. Other wind parks followed. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory invited me to join its Wind Powering America committee, where I shared our tax base and job building strategies with other rural leaders by coauthoring The Wind Energy Guide for County Commissioners.

You can’t build energy projects without basic infrastructure, and soon my advocacy expanded to transmission. I publicly supported and even worked at ranch tables to facilitate rights of way with landowners in the early stages of development of the Montana-Alberta Tie Line. The 200‐mile merchant line between Great Falls, Montana, and Lethbridge, Alberta, was designed to export clean energy to Canada. It was completed in 2014 by Berkshire Hathaway.

All this relates back to my consequential energy project because, while simultaneously promoting renewable energy, I was knee deep in the cleanup of several old mining sites that were poisoning streams and threatening a rare trout species. My advocacy to clean up the watershed led to an appointment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s local government committee. My years on that advisory committee opened my eyes to the crisis of diminishing water supplies in the West.

By 2010, I decided to leave public service and try my hand at creating those important clean energy jobs. For the past 7 years, I’ve been a member of the CCEW team, where I have been able to work with dedicated people on a project that will bring good jobs to and boost the economy of a struggling rural Idaho county, significantly improve water supply for the region, and help the western grid reach 100 percent decarbonization.

A pumped storage turbine being manufactured in Voith’s York, Pennsylvania, facility.

A pumped storage turbine being manufactured in Voith’s York, Pennsylvania, facility.

Hydro Leader: Is CCEW a private company?

Peggy Beltrone: Yes, we are independent power producers. The entity was formed specifically to build this concept.

Hydro Leader: Please describe CCEW.

Peggy Beltrone: CCEW is located on lands that our founder’s grandparents used for their sheep operations, high above the South Fork Boise River in southern Idaho. In the 1940s, Reclamation built a dam adjacent to the ranch. Together with other water projects across the state, Anderson Ranch Dam transformed the Idaho economy by providing power, irrigation, and flood control. We will use Anderson Ranch Reservoir as our lower reservoir. At CCEW, we like to say non nova sed nove, which is Latin for not new things, but in a new way. Pumped hydro energy storage is the workhorse of the planet—representing 97 percent of the world’s capacity. We’re deploying the century-old technology in a 21stcentury way that boosts its duration and flexibility at a grand scale, beyond current or announced storage facilities, and maximizes services for the transmission grid. Our Trybrid project powers the pumps with onand offsite wind and solar generation and stores water in a new 100,000 acre-foot reservoir.

The construction of the Anderson Ranch Dam. The Cat Creek facility will be the next generation of clean energy production.

The construction of the Anderson Ranch Dam. The Cat Creek facility will be the next generation of clean energy production.

Hydro Leader: What have you been doing to advance the project, and what is the projected timeline for the construction?

Peggy Beltrone: Beginning in 2014, our team has worked on development milestones, such as footprinting the project on the 26,000‐acre private lands; conducting wildlife and aquatic surveys; measuring the motive forces, water, wind, and solar; securing transmission access; selecting technologies; securing important local permits and advancing state and federal licenses and permits; consulting with the National Laboratories; monitoring electrical markets; engaging investors; and pretty much being nose to the grindstone to reach our goal of being in operation in 2026. It’s great now to take a breath and celebrate our agreement with Voith Hydro. Voith will design, manufacture, install, and maintain its advanced ternary pump storage equipment at CCEW.

Hydro Leader: How did you decide to work with Voith, and what were the advantages of working with Voith?

Peggy Beltrone: Almost as early in the design process as I can remember, we wanted to change the performance parameters of pumped storage hydro. After intense review and consideration, Voith’s technology and stability led us to its doorstep. Our engineers were able to engage Voith to precisely describe what we needed in our technology to reach our 100 percent clean energy goal and how our anticipated operational parameters needed to be met by advanced technology innovation. Voith convinced us that it could meet our challenge at every request and that a Voith ternary pump-turbine unit designed specifically for our project was the technology that could provide the wide range of services necessary for the future.

We designed our project to store massive amounts of energy, reducing curtailment of the overproduction of renewables in the West, guaranteeing that those renewables operate as firm and reliable generation, and solving the impending crisis that will occur when renewable penetration reaches 75–80 percent. Second, we want a facility that performs all energy grid services necessary for this increased renewable resource penetration, so that no offtaker—be it an investor-owned utility, public power, or even a corporate entity—needs to contract with multiple facilities for these wide-ranging needs. Third, we want to provide a facility that can react in seconds to demand but can also supply long-duration energy and capacity that resembles baseload in a power station that will last through this century.

We’re at 1,100 MW total—380 MW wind and solar and 720 MW of pumped storage hydro with 87,120 megawatt-hours of pumped hydro energy storage. That level of storage on its own can supply 720 MW hourly for 5 days or lesser continuous generation levels for weeks without recharging. The facility also has a reaction time of seconds to provide frequency regulation and volt-ampere reactive support even while in pumping/ charging mode. It can ramp its output up or down within 30 seconds. With its carefully designed configuration and technology, the facility can pump/charge, generate/ discharge, or do both simultaneously, if necessary.

Hydro Leader: Will this project’s onsite wind and solar generation provide the full amount of energy necessary to operate the pumped storage plant?

Peggy Beltrone: No. These resources can stand on their own or be part of the pump load that charges this incredible water battery. The same is true of our offsite photovoltaic solar facilities, and we will use additional offsite renewable generation partly or in whole to facilitate the pump/charging process.

Hydro Leader: What water is going to be used to fill the Cat Creek Reservoir?

Peggy Beltrone: The water will come from a new CCEW water right. It is based on taking available excess spring runoff. It is a large water right of 101,300 acre-feet, which is necessary for an energy storage facility that also intends to provide critical new water storage for the Treasure Valley area of Idaho.

We are currently under a preliminary lease of power privilege with Reclamation and will negotiate the final terms and conditions concurrent with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing process.

Hydro Leader: How will this project address climate change?

Peggy Beltrone: All over the West, rising temperatures are releasing mountain snowpack into our streams and rivers way too early. Community planners are rushing to devise plans to expand existing dams to capture the water. At CCEW, we’re proposing to store these floodwaters in a new, sizable, off-stream reservoir that can both save water for other purposes and allow it to be used daily to make the West’s electrical transmission system resilient enough to help fight climate change. The Cat Creek Reservoir will have 80,000 acre-feet reserved for families, businesses, and crops in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, which is the Boise River basin, and it makes my former county commissioner’s budget heart soar to think that our $2.4 billion project will create $1 billion in manufacturing, construction, and operational jobs, mostly in rural communities.

CCEW is sized to meet the pressing needs of our time but will be built with absolute care. Given my history, I’m one of the last people who would ever want to leave a problem for a county official or a community in the future. Most recently, I was eager to hear and read about Voith Hydro’s strong commitment to making this project an environmental showcase. Others on our team could tell you about our designs for aquatic and wildlife protections, the environmental services that we will be able to offer, and our plans for staying actively connected to community stakeholders over the next 100 years of operation.

Hydro Leader: What is your vision for the future?

Peggy Beltrone: Personally, this is my legacy project. Beginning in 2005, I served on the 25x’25 National Steering Committee, on which rural business and government leaders set the ambitious goal of having 25 percent of our energy generation be renewable by the year 2025. However, there is a problem with the variability of renewables. These resources need to come on to the transmission grid in a safe and friendly way that doesn’t stress the grid. But that is not how wind and solar function. Fluctuations of output during any hour, overproduction leading to shutdowns or curtailments at midday, and a lack of dependability are increasing problems for renewables in the West. Energy storage, especially large-volume, long-duration energy storage, is key for making these variable resources perform as firm, dependable output and for storing their surplus production so that it can be used when needed on the grid. CCEW can absorb that overproduction and then provide the energy when necessary while also providing all the services necessary to firm those variable resources and, more importantly, all the other services needed for a resilient, reliable, and secure grid. Electric vehicles, electric heating, and the retirement of fossil fuel generators all will contribute to a significant crunch on this country’s electrical system in juxtaposition with increasing wind and solar penetration. Getting CCEW operational within the next few years will help temper this collision and, more importantly, be one of the solutions for when renewables hit that brick wall of 80 percent penetration. Experts seem to agree that if solutions are not in place when this level of wind and solar is achieved, rate payers will suffer.

As the public policy advisor at CCEW, I’m honored to work with a highly knowledgeable, extremely enthusiastic team that has held steady through the pandemic to advance this project. Our landowners, energy engineers, aquatic and water specialists, attorneys, and other consultants all care deeply for the region and are working hard, not with a new thing, but in a new way. We know we can store energy and increase renewable energy, secure water for a thirsty valley, and give a big economic boost to rural America. We think it’s a formula the country should be adopting in its quest for decarbonization, especially as we’ve seen temperatures increasing and precious water slipping away from our communities.

Peggy Beltrone is the public policy advisor for Cat Creek Energy & Water. She can be contacted at info@ccewsrps.net. For more on CCEW, visit catcreekenergy.com.