In writing about the Black Rock project it wasn’t really my intent to trash the notion of a new Yakima basin reservoir. Mainly, I saw the $2 billion miscalculation as an opportunity to chide Eastern Washington voters for constantly complaining about tax dollars flowing East to West (they don’t) when in fact the irrigation, electrification and transportation infrastructure that makes their economy possible was large built courtesy of huge state and federal subsidies.
I understand the imperative to maintain the Yakima region as a productive agricultural center in the face of the increasing strain placed on the water supply by climate change and population growth, so I don’t want to dwell on the negative side of this project without sufficiently educating myself on the details. But an astute observation by HA regular Roger Rabbit deserves broader consideration. In the comment thread Roger asks what should have been an obvious question: “Is Black Rock a Perpetual Motion Machine?”
One of the alleged “benefits” touted by Black Rock promoters is hydroelectric generation. Apart from the 600% error in calculating power sales, let’s examine where the water that generates the power will come from in the first place.
It will be pumped UP to Black Rock Reservoir, elevation 1778 feet, from Priest Rapids Dam, elevation 390 feet. Then it will flow through turbines at Black Rock dam and into the Yakima River, which flows into the Columbia River below McNary Dam, elevation 340 feet.
Someone please explain how you get net power generation from pumping the water that generates the power uphill in order to generate the power? Are these folks saying the water in Black Rock Reservoir will generate more power than is consumed getting the water up there?
[…] When they talk about Black Rock hydropower generation, all they’re talking about is recapturing a small percentage of the energy that was used to get the water up to the reservoir.
The Yakima Basin Storage Alliance originally touted revenue from power generation at $2.4 billion over forty years, but after discovering a calculation error, revised that figure downwards to only $412 million. But if the Black Rock Reservoir sits at a higher elevation than its source, then any power generated by Black Rock’s turbines could only amount to a fraction of the power it takes to pump the water into the reservoir in the first place. Indeed, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates the annual energy costs alone for operating the pumps at $62 million — that’s $2.48 billion over the same forty year period. (I asked my 9-year-old daughter, and she assures me that $412 million is indeed less than $2.48 billion.)
But this post isn’t really about math. It’s about honesty.
Understand that whatever their accuracy, the YBSA’s power revenue projections were put forth within the context of a discussion over recouping the estimated $4.2 billion cost of construction. But since the laws of physics dictate that it will take more energy to pump the water into the reservoir ($62 million annually) than could possibly be generated drawing the water out ($10.1 million annually,) any discussion of energy “benefits” within this context is entirely bogus. And always has been.
Yet it took the sometimes rabid Roger Rabbit to do the minimal legwork necessary to dispel the YBSA’s misinformation — legwork that consisted of little more than browsing the source documents and applying a little logic. For even after the YBSA admitted a 600 percent miscalculation, the journalists covering this story never bothered to challenge the underlying assumption that energy revenues could be used to offset the cost of construction.
I thank my friends in the legacy media for calling this story to my attention. But chalk one up for the blogosphere for setting the record straight.