The Electron Hydropower Project is located on the Puyallup River in Pierce County, Washington. The Project begins about six miles west of Mt. Rainier National Park. Water is diverted from the river along a 10.2 mile wooden flume (topped with a railroad) to a forebay, then plunges 875 feet downhill through steel penstocks to the 26 megawatt Powerhouse. The Project produces enough renewable energy to power more than 20,000 homes.
Electron is a run-of-river project, there is no water storage from a large dam and reservoir like the big hydropower projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The upper Puyallup River is fed by direct precipitation and the melting snow and glacier fields of Mt. Rainier. This natural feature allows Electron to continue to generate clean power well throughout the summer with only a modest reduction in capacity by early Fall. Soon the November storms bring the project back up to full capacity again!
The Project diverts up to 400 cubic feet of water per second (cfs), and must maintain minimum instream flows for all aquatic life living downstream in the river reach before diverted flow returns to the river from the Powerhouse. At times river flow substantially exceeds the project capacity, recently exceeding 10,000 cfs three different times within a thirteen month period! These mega-flows sweep over the diversion structure taking large boulders, cobble and sediment with them downstream. The Project is being upgraded with a new 70 foot long by 12 foot diameter air bladder spillway to provide for this sediment transport while keeping these materials from entering the flume. This work began the summer of 2018.
Both professional and amateur photographers have captured the essence of this special project.
When Electron was built in 1904, it’s doubtful that the need for renewable energy resources, endangered species recovery, sustainable forestry and climate change were in the forefront of people’s minds. Yet 116 years later our daily news is rich in coverage of these topics, several reaching a critical time requiring immediate action.
Electron provides many human, fish & wildlife and natural resource benefits. As long as it rains and snows and water flows, hydropower will be a renewable energy resource. Several large area electric utilities have adopted policies to secure renewable energy only for their service areas. In Western Washington this means hydropower. As a run-of-river project, Electron does not use a large dam or reservoir for water storage, therefore there is no river valley inundation, loss of habitat, cultural or historical resources. The project does not stop sediment and woody debris transport or channel migration. Basic fish passage is provided for and will soon be further improved.
Electron does not require huge transmission towers and wide corridors to deliver power to the grid. Electron connects at the Electron Heights Substation approximately 1/3 mile from the Powerhouse. Electron would now be considered a source of “distributed generation."
The Electron Hydropower Project includes approximately 2200 acres of forest land and about 10 miles of river frontage and riparian corridor. These lands support sustainable forestry, protect the river shoreline, provide diversified habitat for fish & wildlife and maintain a scenic river corridor.
The water delivery flume is located predominately on pile bents so there is very little land re-grading. The flume occupies a narrow corridor and is only slightly visible from the opposite hillside. The service train on top of the flume provides maintenance and operational access without carving a separate road and grade into the hillside. No road means no concentrated storm-water surface run off.
The Project includes a fish ladder for upstream passage and operation of a trap and haul facility for downstream passage that transports fish that have entered the flume to a release location downstream of the Powerhouse. The facility is managed by fisheries biologists and includes the counting, measuring and species identification of fish being transported. This data gathering helps biologists estimate the productivity and eventual returns of salmon to the river in ensuing years.
Electron is working to implement a new sediment and fish exclusion system at the intake that will prevent sediment and fish from entering the flume permanently. The exclusion system will return fish to the river immediately below the Diversion. Phase I of this project was permitted and began summer 2018 and will take a few years to fully implement. Upon completion, no fish will be able to enter the flume.
Electron also works with the Puyallup Tribe to raise fish. Electron provides annual financial support that benefits Tribal fisheries programs. Electron has helped to maintain Tribal rearing ponds located upstream of the Project (Rushingwater and Cowskull ponds) and will assist in their re-construction to provide for Chinook rearing capacity. Electron has also designed and built a new salmon rearing pond on Electron property for the Tribe to rear and release Chinook salmon.
Chinook salmon, Steelhead trout and Bull trout are all listed as threatened species that reside within the Project reach of the Puyallup River. Electron has initiated the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as provided for in Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act to address the role of Electron in the long-term conservation of these species. Electron anticipates the HCP development, agency and stakeholder review and adoption process of the HCP to continue throughout 2020.
Electron has constructed a new rearing and acclimation pond for the enhancement of Chinook salmon in the Puyallup River.
Electron is uniquely positioned to meet present and future renewable energy and natural resource needs. Electron will be able to adjust naturally to future potential climate change. The Mt. Rainier and Puyallup watershed vicinity are anticipated to become warmer with more precipitation on average over the years. This would likely translate to less snow pack and more rain at lower elevations, with more severe storms. Mt Rainier is a major massif with extensive land area at higher elevations. It is anticipated that the mountain will receive more precipitation and that precipitation will be stored as snow and ice at higher elevations than that which presently melts on a seasonal basis. The net effect will be snow and ice storage will move up-slope, and Rainier has the area at higher elevation to take it all. Electron will continue to be a strong Summer power generator as well as the rest of the year.
Electron benefits include clean renewable energy, salmon enhancement, Orca recovery, sustainable forestry, wildlife habitat, historic preservation, low carbon footprint and adaptation to climate change. All of these attributes make Electron Hydro a strong renewable resource community partner!