Hoover Dam Bypass: An award-winning bridge

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge was honored this week with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2012 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award March 22. At nearly 900 feet above the Colorado River and 1,900 feet long, the Hoover Dam Bypass helps to protect the security of the dam by removing through traffic from US 93. The structure was constructed in a harsh environment where temperatures reached triple digits during the day. The structure is the highest and longest arch concrete bridge in the Western hemisphere and features the world’s tallest concrete columns.

The project was recognized not only as a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole but also emphasized environmental and cultural stewardship. The highway underpasses were built for endangered desert bighorn sheep, native plants in the construction corridor were preserved and replaced, and Native American cultural properties adjacent to the site were protected.

Western staff joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service and the states of Arizona and Nevada to build the bridge across the Colorado River, bypassing the highway that spans the crest of Hoover Dam.

Read more about the OCEA award and Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge at the ASCE’s news release.

House approves California water bill

On Feb. 29, the House of Representatives passed HR 1837, also known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, which will create more water storage capacity in the state of California. If enacted as written, the proposed bill would result in a number of changes, including, but not necessarily limited to:

  • the existing environmental regulatory baseline under which the Central Valley Project is operated
  • the list of scientific and fish and wildlife management agencies which would  responsible for assisting the Secretary of Interior in determining what would constitute reasonable in-stream flow requirements
  • potential increases in both project use and Base Resource allocations

However, the biggest impact to Western will be the portion of the bill that relates to the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. These impacts would result from resetting the existing environmental regulatory compliance standards to a previous one (i.e., the 1994 Bay-Delta Accords). As proposed, this bill would assure transparency of CVPIA Restoration Fund expenditures by creating an oversight expenditure board, enact a sunset date as to when the Restoration Funds may be reduced as stipulated in the original act, and capping contributions to CVP power preference users as is the case for CVP water users. Because preference power customers pay CVPIA Restoration Fund assessments as an additive to their cost-based Base Resource allocation, these actions will ease some of the cost burdens currently faced by Western’s Sierra Nevada customers.

The bill faces a somewhat more problematical future in the Senate as the measure is opposed by several environmental groups. Stakeholders are also concerned that parts of the proposed new legislation could be separated and attached as amendments to other legislation being considered by Congress.

DOE announces initiative to transform Nation’s electric sector

Department of Energy Secretary Steve Chu released a memo, March 16, outlining a plan to ensure that the Nation’s four Power Marketing Administrations can assume an increased leadership role in modernizing the grid to meet 21st century needs.

More information about the PMA’s new strategies can be found on DOE’s blog.

We at Western are encouraged by DOE’s plans and support the department’s objectives. We are looking forward to the initiative and the new ways it will allow us to achieve our mission.

Plan to improve fish population

To better manage fishery related actions at the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon National parks, the National Parks Services held a public meeting in Page, Ariz., March 5. Participants who attended the meeting, including Western staff, are working to develop a single–planning effort that will better coordinate projects aimed to protect and restore endangered, native and sport fish populations..

The goal is to create a plan that covers both parks and gives NPS the ability to implement actions and ensure compliance coverage. The main objective of the collaboration is to restore the river eco systems to a pre-human state by removing non-native fish from some zones so the native species can rebuild. Other zones will keep non-native fish for sport fishing and will continue to hold non-native fish such as brown trout.

 The next step is to schedule pre-scoping meetings to get information out to park guides, hotel owners, anglers, rafters and other stakeholders. As a stakeholder Western will be a part of the scoping process and will provide input when the environmental assessment is out for comment.

Western helps explain transmission role at BLM Solar Workshop

Two Western employees participated in the Bureau of Land Management Solar Workshop in Las Vegas Nevada March 6-8, 2012.  BLM put on the workshop to provide information to Bureau of Indian Affairs on developing solar projects on Federal lands.  

These workshops include reviews of BLM environmental impact studies, BLM solar zones, and panels on lessons learned and project sponsor challenges. 

Western Operations Support Specialist John Steward provided an overview of transmission development processes with a focus on solar projects. “It was a great experience to speak at a workshop that provided me the opportunity to educate others on Western’s role as a transmission service provider and a facilitator for interconnections,” said Steward.

Transmission Infrastructure Program Senior Investment Officer Roman Fontes also participated in the BLM workshop. He served on a development panel with other Federal agencies and commercial developers discussing the standards and selection process used to screen projects for viability. “BLM solar workshops are an important forum for exchanging information with BLM, BIA, NREL and industry partners on key development tasks to realize solar projects,” said Fontes. “The panel discussed challenges and lessons learned for commercial developers and including commercial aspects of Purchase Power Agreements and Transmission Service Agreements, and bank and finance requirements.”

 Fontes also conducted a follow up session with BIA participants on commercial and finance structures, negotiations and lease and lease-back arrangements.

California releases results from snowpack survey

The California Department of Water Resources announced the results from the third of five surveys confirming the impacts associated with the continuing dry winter conditions.

Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 26 percent of the expected April 1 normal and continued to remain significantly below normal. The relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 28 percent of April 1 normal for the northern Sierras, 26 percent of the April 1 normal for the central Sierras, and 33 percent of the April 1 normal for the southern Sierras.

During normal water conditions, January and Feb. are usually wet. However, the dearth of winter storms has caused state and Federal water managers to announce that projected water deliveries for the upcoming water year will be substantially below normal contract maximums. Although March affords an opportunity for chance for more precipitation, both the state and Federal water projects have announced reduced deliveries for the upcoming water year.

The reduced water deliveries are expected to result in reduced hydropower generation output for the Central Valley and State Water Projects. The impact of reduced water deliveries are, however, somewhat mitigated by last year’s above-normal precipitation which resulted in higher-than- average starting reservoir storage levels.

Large hydro projects could apply to California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

In February, the California legislature introduced Assembly Bill 1771 Renewable energy resources: hydroelectric generation, which, if enacted, would revise what size hydropower plant can contribute to an energy service provider’s renewable portfolio standard and how many megawatts can be counted.

Currently, only small hydropower plants qualify to be used as a renewable energy source under California’s 33-percent RPS requirement, and the maximum hydropower contribution is 30 megawatts. 

If enacted in its present form, the hydropower plant size and megawatt limits would be eliminated, which could increase interest in Western’s Sierra Nevada region’s Central Valley Project. The CVP’s 11 hydropower plants produced 5,369 gigawatt-hours in Fiscal Year 2011 for preference power customers in California.  

The bill is tentatively scheduled to be heard in committee March 22.

Brophy College Preparatory School wins Arizona Regional Science Bowl

Brophy College Preparatory School of Phoenix won the Arizona Regional Science Bowl today at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Ariz., March 3. The winning team, including Kyle Chapman, Seth Harris, Ivan Iotzov, Aakash Jain, and Andrew Salmon and Coach Cheryl Lenox, advances to Washington, D.C., April 26 to 30 to compete against more than 77 other regional winners in the national finals of the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl.

Desert Vista High School of Phoenix finished second, Brophy Preparatory School of Phoenix finished third and BASIS Tucson of Tucson, Ariz., finished fourth.

Check out more at Western’s press release.

Western tribal customers awarded DOE funding for clean energy projects

The Department of Energy announced its next round of tribal energy development projects, Feb. 16.  Of the 19 clean energy projects chosen to receive more than $6.5 million, 10 involve Western tribal customers.

These DOE-selected projects will allow Native American tribes to advance clean energy within their communities by assessing local energy resources, developing renewable energy projects and deploying clean energy technologies. These projects will help tribal communities across the country save money and create new job and business opportunities.

The projects selected for negotiation of award fall into three areas:

  • Feasibility studies – Thirteen projects will receive $3.6 million to assess the technical and economic viability of developing renewable energy resources on tribal lands to generate utility-scale power or installing renewable energy systems to reduce energy use by 30 percent.For example, Western customer White Earth Reservation Tribal Council would use the funding to look at deploying a biogas/biomass-fired combined heat and power facility to generate 2.7 megawatts of electricity for tribal buildings, as well as for space and domestic water heating.
  • Renewable energy development – Four projects, including Western customer Jemez Pueblo’s project, will receive $1.7 million for pre-construction development activities.  Jemez Pueblo plans to use the funding to complete all remaining solar development activities for a 4-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility, which includes acquiring a power purchase agreement, completing site-related project requirements, such as site surveys and lease approval, and finalizing project financing.
  • Installation– Two projects will receive $1.3 million to deploy renewable energy technologies to convert waste and other biomass to energy. One of the two is another Jemez Pueblo project, where the tribe would install a cordwood-fired biomass energy system using locally available wood to heat the tribe’s visitor center. Once installed, the system will provide up to 90 percent of the facility’s heating needs.

See the DOE press release, the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, and the project descriptions.

Webinars provide opportunities

DOE and Western have taken a number of steps to support tribal energy development and empower tribal leaders to make informed decisions that promote community economic development.

Western has already held its fourth webinar in partnership with the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and the DOE Tribal Energy Program to promote tribal energy sufficiency. The next event will be March 28 where participants will learn more about interconnection and transmission service queues.

Western holds Tribal webinar on transmission policy

Western conducted an Unwinding Transmission Policies webinar for 30 Native American Tribes and other interested parties Feb. 29 to explain what transmission policy is, how it is established and who enforces it. FERC Order 1000 and its possible impact to transmission resources were also discussed.

Questions ranged from whether Western would be releasing a renewable request for proposals to very specific issues regarding FERC policy.

“[It] was a well-done presentation. I appreciated [the speaker]’s organized and thoughtful approach to such a complex topic,” said Jan Bush, an environmental planner at Transcon Environmental. “When the recorded presentation becomes available, I would like to share it with the environmental planning staff here at Transcon.

This is the fourth webinar Western has held in partnership with the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and the DOE Tribal Energy Program.

Check out more, including audio recordings and presentations, in Western’s press release.