Massive Pump Storage Project Would Fuel Data Center Growth in Region


Federal regulators gave permission last month for a Boise-based company to explore building a 150 megawatt pump storage facility above the existing Prineville Reservoir.

If built, the estimated $240 million facility could feed power to Prineville’s growing data center cluster and would complement wind and solar power projects proposed for the region, said Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy LLC. 

While the project faces many hurdles, it could be built as early as 2020, Shapiro said.

“No immediate showstoppers have come up yet,” he said. “If they did, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

The 36-month permit, granted July 19 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, gives Gridflex the opportunity to conduct environmental and economic assessments of the project, which would include building an upper reservoir where pumped water would be stored and released when needed. It will cost $5 million to get through the licensing process, he said.

“The markets are not easy to establish,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a single power purchase agreement that justifies the significant investment required.”

Prineville has several factors in its favor, Shapiro said, including an existing reservoir, a power substation located about 16 miles away, complementary wind and solar energy project and the recent construction of both Facebook and Apple data centers.

Data centers have a potential power demand for 150 megawatts, which is needed around the clock, to keep their servers cool and facilities operating, according to Shapiro.

While no agreements are in place, there is potential for selling either directly or indirectly to both companies, Shapiro said. The project also would include building a 16-mile pipeline from the reservoir to the newly built Ponderosa substation in Prineville, which would connect it with both Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Power and Light grids, he said.

“(Data centers) need reliability,” he said. “That’s why they have located themselves next to a substation. Another way is to have some backup.”

Pump storage is the oldest form of large scale energy storage in the world, Shapiro said. Once built, pump storage is considered the most cost effective approach to storing large amounts of energy.

The technology works by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper one, where the water is stored until needed. Pumping usually occurs at night, when energy costs are lower, he said. The water is then released back down to create energy when it is most needed during the day.

“This is not new technology,” he said. “You sacrifice 20 percent of your energy pumping up, but the difference is worth it because you are getting that power when you want it during the peak demand hours.”

Future studies will look at issues such as soil erosion as water levels rise and fall depending on demand, he said. There also would be a blasting process to build an upper reservoir, although it would not likely affect recreation or other uses in the Prineville Reservoir, he said.

Shapiro expects about four years to get through permitting and licensing process and another three years to construct the project. That would make a 2020 opening date, he said.


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