- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

SELAH, Wash. (AP) - Farmers across the Yakima Basin depend on a network of canals to deliver water for their crops. Now, scientists believe the canals could provide another resource to the region: renewable energy.

Capturing the energy contained in the water flowing in the Northwest’s rivers is nothing new - hydropower dams have been doing just that since the 1930s. But new turbine technology can create electricity without using dams or reservoirs, which carry environmental impacts.

A Canadian company is testing out a turbine in the Roza Canal, just south of the Yakima Canyon.

“We are creating power from moving water without the need for damming or diversions,” said Shannon Halliday, the director of business development for Instream Energy Systems. “The testing we’re doing in Roza will help us develop our next-generation technology.”

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Instream Energy Systems worked with BAE Systems on the turbine design. They first installed their equipment in the canal last August for a monthlong test. Engineers will be back this week to put their turbine back in the canal and set up monitors to track it all summer long.

The company chose to test its technology here because the Roza canal is a good example of the canal systems found around the West, where the technology could be deployed. The Bureau of Reclamation was happy to cooperate.

“We’re promoting the research. There’s a directive from (Washington) D.C. to look into these technologies,” said Chuck Garner, the Yakima project manager for the reclamation bureau. “But, we don’t really have anything to do with it except they are putting it in our canal.”

The turbine looks like a giant single eggbeater, which spins slowly as the water pushes past it. All of the electronics that run it are kept well above the water.

To install it without interfering with water delivery operations, the company built a large steel structure stretching across the top of the canal, which includes a walkway for the engineers. The turbine is mounted on this structure and the blades are rotated into the water.

The turbine is designed to produce 25 kilowatts, but at normal canal conditions it’s expected to produce enough electricity to power eight to 10 homes when the canal is running. For now, however, that power is just used on site by the engineers to run computers and data-monitoring equipment.

Eventually, Instream Energy hopes to build commercial turbine farms through canal systems that could power hundreds or thousands of homes, Halliday said.

Existing canals are ideal for this technology because the environmental impacts are minimal. But the company is also considering using the turbines in rivers.

Instream Energy’s first test site in British Columbia was in a river used by bull trout and rainbow trout, Halliday said. Studies found that the fish easily navigate around the turbine blades. The fish can sense the change in water movement similar to other in-stream obstacles.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Department of Energy are supporting the study of this turbine technology. It’s part of a larger initiative to encourage development of innovative technologies to capture energy from moving water in tidal estuaries, rivers and canals, which is known as hydrokinetic energy.

“This canal is a great test facility,” said Jesse Roberts, a scientist with the water power program at Sandia National Laboratory, based in Albuquerque, N.M.

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