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Falls City benefitting from student's research

FALLS CITY -- What natural resources come to mind when you think of Falls City?

Graduate student Andrew Tanner is researching a pair of renewable energy projects to benefit Falls City.

Photo by Pete Strong

Graduate student Andrew Tanner is researching a pair of renewable energy projects to benefit Falls City.

July 23, 2013

FALLS CITY -- What natural resources come to mind when you think of Falls City?

Forestland and the falls on the Little Luckiamute River are likely answers, both valuable for their recreational opportunities.

A class of Oregon State University Rural Studies Program students saw potential for something else in two of the city's most prominent features: energy.

Class members studied the city's strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities this past spring and presented their basic analysis to the city at the end of the term.

One student, Andrew Tanner, wanted to take the natural resources research a step further. He offered to do preliminary analysis on two renewable energy projects proposed by the class.

Tanner is pursuing master's degrees in public policy and water resources policy and management, so he would earn hands-on experience in his desired field. In exchange, he would help the city's small staff accomplish a long-term goal.

"I'm sure they are not lacking ideas," Tanner said. "What they are mostly lacking is time. Since I want experience in this anyway, I thought it would be good for me and for them."

Tanner, who lives in Independence, is spending his summer looking into power generation using the falls and a biomass project using logging slash to heat the city's schools.

"We are trying to find ways to leverage our natural resources without depleting them," said Falls City Administrator Amber Mathiesen.

The two projects on Tanner's research list should do just that.

A potential hydropower project using the falls, if his calculations check out, could generate enough power to at least offset the city's energy costs. Tanner believes it can be done with the only noticeable impact being less water flowing over the falls.

"They will pull a little water out from above the falls and put it in at the bottom," he said. "In the meantime (the water) would run through a turbine generator system."

A run-of-the-river system Tanner describes does not require a dam and wouldn't permanently remove water from the river. It could be installed for as little as $50,000. With minimal maintenance required, the system could pay for itself in five to six years, including financing costs.

"Our power bill is $15,000 annually," Mathiesen said. "That would be significant for the city."

His second project will focus on the possibility of using biomass -- in this case logging slash -- to feed steam boilers to heat the city's high school and elementary school buildings.

"Instead of having to rely on electric heating or gas heating, the actual nearby forest slash can be utilized very well," Tanner said.

Both reports would be preliminary, but could provide the city with solid information to use to decide if the projects are worth pursuing further.

"He is very efficient, very self-directed and very resourceful," Mathiesen said of Tanner. "We certainly would not have been able to get to these quite so quickly. I'm very grateful."

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