Powerful People: Turbine repairs at Rocky Reach Dam


Rocky Reach is one of the PUD’s two dams on the Columbia. It has an 11-unit powerhouse and it puts out about 1300 megawatts. We have some of the lowest rates in the nation because of that capacity. Rocky Reach has staff on 24 hours a day, and their job is to monitor the units. And it was during this normal monitoring that they observed that something wasn’t going right with these units. The operator responded to that and sent some crews down to investigate. They didn’t see anything obviously wrong. It was the following weekend, that I didn’t sleep much. I knew we had a problem internally, because we had some oil around the shaft in areas it shouldn’t be, and they were finding shavings in the strainer, so we knew there were issues somewhere. We did several tests to identify the problem. Until finally we had no choice but to disassemble the entire turbine, pull it out, and put it on the floor. When we were removing the piston rod, that’s when our mechanics identified a crack. This is a 16,000-pound stainless steel rod that operates the blades. The failure in the piston rod eventually would have literally destroyed the turbine, if not the generator as well. And we would have been out of production for several years. If that rod were to completely fail, we could have dumped a considerable amount of oil into the river, which we don’t want to see happen under any circumstance. We did thorough inspections and determined that it was, in fact, a design flaw. We realized that we had three other units that had exactly the same design, exactly the same rod, and thus they were probably overstressed too. And that’s the point where we took all four units out of service, until we could understand and come up with solutions. We set up a incident command structure early, early on in the process to have a communications department to keep our general public informed. Our crews have the skills. And once we identified what the problem was, we were able to put them to work right away. We were given some very specific instructions, and the first one was to protect lives. Health and safety was number one. Second was the environment. Make sure we’re protecting the environment. Everyone knows the value of the river here. The third was getting the units back in service, getting that capacity back. We stepped back and said we really need to do a holistic engineering process. Figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Make sure there’s nothing else in there that’s inadequate, unacceptable. So rather then just fixing what’s broken, we’re going through the complete design and making sure it’s all right. We have the capability of performing incredible work within our organization. And because of that we are committed to continue these fiber repairs with a large degree of involvement from our internal workforce. And for that we will always be very grateful. I think that is the tradition of the district. Everyone feels a great responsibility to the river and making sure things are done right and we’re not taking up certain risks. We actually accomplished the work in a time frame and at a cost that the District was very happy with. We chose intentionally from the outset to do a holistic approach, to ensure that when we’re complete there will be no other problems for the next 40 years. This is an example of why we feel good working for the PUD. It could’ve been a disaster, but it wasn’t because of some really sharp people.

1 thought on “Powerful People: Turbine repairs at Rocky Reach Dam

  1. Amazing.  I am so thankful that the fine people at Rocky Reach saved us so much money and found a fix!

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