Kleinschmidt Associates is one of a few engineering consulting firms in North America that specializes in hydropower, and it has been doing so for more than 50 years. Its expertise is in engineering, regulatory, and environmental solutions that help lower costs, shorten schedules, and enhance long-term regulatory relationships. In particular, Kleinschmidt works on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing efforts for some of the largest pumped storage hydroelectric installations in the country, including the proposed Banks Lake Pumped Storage Project, which is planned to be built near Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. In this interview, Kelly Larimer, Kleinschmidt’s vice president and director of science, regulatory, and modeling and GIS technologies, tells Hydro Leader about the firm’s specialized focus and current work.
Hydro Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Kelly Larimer: I’m currently the vice president and director of science, regulatory, and modeling and GIS technologies at Kleinschmidt Associates. I’m from the West Coast, primarily Washington State. I went to Central Washington University and earned a master of science degree in resources and environmental management. I’ve worked in the Columbia River basin for the majority of my career, conducting riverine studies with Central Washington University and the University of Montana and projects with tribal, county, and state governments. In addition, I worked for 6½ years with the Grant Public Utility District as the lands and recreation resources manager, focusing on hydroelectric license compliance activities. Then I joined Kleinschmidt Associates, where I’ve worked for the past 6½ years. My position involves the oversight of the company’s regulatory, environmental, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, and civil and restoration engineering groups, as well as our GIS and remote sensing services. We have quite a spread of expertise, and I have counterparts within the company who oversee hydro engineering services and project management.
Hydro Leader: How many people are employed by Kleinschmidt, and of those, how many are on your team?
Kelly Larimer: In total, Kleinschmidt employs around 150 people in 10 offices: 8 in the United States and 2 in Canada. The number of employees under my areas of oversight fluctuates seasonally, but right now, there are around 60 in my division, including temporary staff.
Hydro Leader: What cities are the offices located in?
Kelly Larimer: In the United States, we have offices in Birmingham, Alabama; Essex, Connecticut; Falmouth, Maine; Pittsfield, Maine; Portland, Oregon; Strasburg, Pennsylvania; Lexington, South Carolina; and Madison, Wisconsin. In Canada, we have offices in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Peterborough, Ontario.
Hydro Leader: Tell us about the history of the company.
Kelly Larimer: Kleinschmidt’s history dates back to the early 1960s, when it was founded by an engineer named Dr. Kleinschmidt in Pittsfield, Maine. The company emerged out of the pulp and paper industry and quickly shifted its focus to hydropower, initially providing primarily engineering support. Over the years, and particularly in the 1980s, the company began diversifying into FERC relicensing and environmental studies. For most of its history, the company was on a somewhat conservative and organic growth trajectory based around expanding geographically to provide local service to our clients. Over the last couple of years, we have added a substantial number of staff to respond to the major FERC relicensing study work that has recently emerged and to work on other renewable energy and water resources projects. As a result, today we have almost 40 people dedicated to FERC relicensing and compliance work alone. We have significant resources in dam safety, engineering design and analysis, operations and maintenance, and a variety of other support activities associated with our engineering team. This includes new project design as well as retrofits for existing facilities. We consider ourselves about as close to a full-service hydro consulting firm as exists in today’s market.
Hydro Leader: Please tell our readers about your work on the proposed Banks Lake Pumped Storage Project in Washington State.
Kelly Larimer: Kleinschmidt has been working with Columbia Basin Hydropower to advance the Banks Lake Project since 2014. Our role is to serve as the owner’s engineer and to lead the regulatory and environmental studies components of the project. We’ve handled all the preliminary due diligence related to operational, energy, and financial modeling. We’ve also done some conceptual engineering design and worked on the advancement of the design over the years. Specifically, we initiated the FERC licensing process and the Bureau of Reclamation’s lease of power privilege regulatory process. Right now, the project straddles two federal jurisdictions, which is why both of those processes are necessary. Along the way in 2019, the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) was passed in Washington State. CETA requires that electric utilities that serve load in Washington acquire significant amounts of new clean energy resources, such as wind and solar, by 2040. This development has benefited the project’s economics, since the project offers a new large-scale renewable source of firm capacity. In response, we have adjusted our marketing and engaged with potential investors. One of our major roles has been to help put all the puzzle pieces on the table and to help Columbia Basin Hydropower develop a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities and challenges of this substantial project. We have worked with the agency’s leadership to identify the major development risks and cost drivers associated with the project, which has advanced the conceptual design, geophysical and environmental reviews, transmission studies, and other preliminary studies that need to happen in a large-scale study planning effort like this one.
Hydro Leader: Would you describe the Banks Lake Pumped Storage Project in general terms?
Kelly Larimer: The project is planned to be located near the city of Grand Coulee, Washington, just above Grand Coulee Dam. A pumped storage project involves an upper and lower reservoir, between which water can be pumped in order to store or generate energy. The lower intake and reservoir for the project would be Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, which lies behind Grand Coulee Dam, and the upper lake intake would be on Banks Lake, which is the storage reservoir for the Columbia Basin Project. There is an existing pumped storage project, the John W. Keys Pumping Plant, which is owned and operated by Reclamation in collaboration with the Bonneville Power Administration. The plant’s primary purpose is to pump water into the irrigation system to ensure that the three Columbia Basin Project irrigation districts have their water rights fulfilled. Our project would be a complementary pumped storage project that could operate in conjunction with the Keys plant in order to assist Reclamation in meeting its water delivery obligations to Columbia Basin Project irrigators. It would also benefit the Pacific Northwest by providing an additional source of firm capacity and ancillary services and flexibility to help manage the region’s existing fleet of intermittent renewable energy resources as well as new resources that are expected to be developed over the next two decades. The Banks Lake Project is planned to be between 500 and 1,000 megawatts (MW)— we’re in the process of zeroing in on what the final capacity will be. We will then continue our design, permitting, and environmental review program around that specification.
Hydro Leader: What is the elevation difference or lift of the project?
Kelly Larimer: The lift is about 300 feet. It’s a low-head pumped hydro project, similar in head to the Ludington Pumped Storage Project in Michigan, though that project is 1,872 MW. Kleinschmidt worked on the Ludington Project’s relicensing, and we continue to do studies and some engineering support on that project, which went online in 1973.
Hydro Leader: How many pumped storage projects has Kleinschmidt worked on?
Kelly Larimer: We’ve worked on FERC relicensing for 11 different pumped storage projects, most recently the one in Bath County, Virginia, which is actually the country’s largest pumped storage project. It has a 4,000 MW capacity. We’ve done engineering support and design for several other projects, including Blenheim-Gilboa (New York), Muddy Run (Pennsylvania), Northfield Mountain (Massachusetts), Rocky River (Connecticut), and Yards Creek (New Jersey), and we have recently assisted with conceptual design on four smaller pumped storage projects, each with a capacity under 20 MW.
Hydro Leader: What should every hydro owner know about Kleinschmidt?
Kelly Larimer: Kleinschmidt is one of the only firms in the country that specializes in all aspects of hydroelectric projects, including regulatory support, environmental services, hydro engineering, new design services, and valuations. We are recognized throughout the industry as a specialized firm whose niche is hydroelectric utility services. We’re proud of that. We do other renewable energy services and related government and water resource projects as well, but hydro is our bread and butter.
Beyond our technical capacities and the work we do, our strengths include the culture of the firm; the client relationships we build and maintain; and our close collaboration with resource and regulatory agencies, other consulting firms, and industry vendors. While we provide many service offerings, we realize that we don’t know everything. We pride ourselves on working to understand our clients’ needs and collaborating to bring practical solutions to complex projects. We’re proud to work on meaningful projects and to be part of the hydro industry and the renewable energy environment.