More hydro power on tap

More local generation of electricity is on tap not only from the sun as we told you recently, but from the power of falling water on the Kaweah River in our backyard. Until recently, Tulare County has had few power plants even though both SCE and PGE had their roots in the county around the turn of the century and the region still sports small hydroelectricity facilities on both the upper Tule and Kaweah Rivers.

At Kaweah Lake’s Terminus Dam, there is a new proposal to build a $15 million hydro-electric project would add 9MW of power generating capacity to the 20MW Terminus power units already in place according to a preliminary permit application filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in July.

“We have flows coming out of the dam that sometimes exceed our capacity to capture them” says Gene Kilgore of Kaweah Power Authority, the entity owned 75% by Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District and 25% by Tulare Irrigation District. The power plant can utilize flows up to 1500cfs now says Kilgore but they want to be able to handle peak flows of 2500 to 2800cfs he says.

The FERC notice “gives us the right to move forward on the project” but it is not a final OK; that will still require several years to finalize.In fact, Kilgore says it starts the process for his group to do a formal feasibility study.

Even more daunting however, is the project will require a ruling by the State Water Resources Board to make use of the water even though they want only to utilize the existing supply, essentially borrow the water for a short period to run through a turbine, and plan no appropriation.“But that state process could take 5 years” he shrugs.

The power plant would be upgraded from 20MW to 29MW of power.Its nameplate power was last increased in 2004 from 17MW upon the completion of the dam enlargement project.

The added power would be enough to power about 9000 homes, three times the number of homes in Exeter.

Currently the electricity is sold to SCE but once the 9MW comes on line the number of potential buyers are numerous since the power market has opened up and will likely continue to do so.

Kilgore adds “federal officials are really pushing more hydro power where there is an opportunity” because renewable power offers fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

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