Posts tagged: Hydropower

Reclamation delays project to relocate Western lines

On July 31, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the delay of a project to relocate Western’s high-voltage transmission lines near Yellowtail Dam in Montana from August to October because of increased environmental concerns.

“I applaud our hydropower partners at Western for their sensitivity to the potential ramifications of the outage associated with the relocation project,” said Dan Jewell, Area Manager for Reclamation’s Montana Area Office. “While these types of maintenance events are never risk-free, delaying the work until later in the year will help reduce that risk.”

The current location of the lines puts them at risk for the dangerous ice storms that occur in the area over winter, prompting a joint effort between Reclamation and Western to move the lines.

The relocation is scheduled to take about two weeks, and the outage requires Reclamation to bypass the water turbines. With the unusually warm summer and fall, agencies and environmentalists were concerned about the impact of not using the colder water at deeper water levels to power the turbines in August. Alternatives to move the water, including the holo-jets and spillways, could increase nitrogen or water temperature, potentially harming fish.

According to Friends of the Bighorn River blog, “With lake water temperatures already well into the 70′s, a slight mistake, miscalculation or unplanned natural or man-made event could have long lasting, devastating effects on the river where fish are already highly stressed from anglers, low flows, gas bubble trauma, irrigation return, warm water and habitat loss.”

 The delay is thought to be a fitting compromise to ensure reliable electricity from Yellowtail Dam this winter and protection of the environment.

California releases results from fifth and final snowpack survey

The California Department of Water Resources announced the results from its fifth and final snowpack survey May 1. The survey confirmed the snowpack’s low water content, which will affect water and power deliveries in California this year.

Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 40 percent of normal. The relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, from which Western’s Central Valley Project relies on to fill reservoirs and generate hydropower, was 70 percent of normal for the northern Sierras, 35 percent of normal for the central Sierras and 20 percent of normal for the southern Sierras.

Last year’s snowpack water content state-wide was 190 percent of normal by this time, which will reduce the impact of the scarce snowpack this year.

“The impact of a below-normal water year has been somewhat mitigated by above-average reservoir storage levels due to unusually wet conditions during the 2010-2011 operating season,” said Sierra Nevada Power Marketer Sonja Anderson.

However, operators of both the state and Federal water projects have already announced reduced water and power deliveries for the upcoming year, including from Western’s Central Valley Project.

Central Valley Project customers receive more water

The Bureau of Reclamation announced April 13 that it was going to be increasing its water supply allocation to Central Valley Project contractors as a result of improved snow pack conditions.

The revised projected deliveries are expected to increase both project use and net project generation, which means more hydropower to sell for Western’s Sierra Nevada region.

“The snow water content ranges from 81 percent of the April 1 average for the Northern Sierra to 32 percent for the Southern Sierra,” stated the press release.

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.

California announces below normal snowpack levels

The California Department of Water Resources announced continuing dry winter conditions in its state-wide survey Feb. 1, which could impact the available water for Western’s Central Valley Project this summer.
 
“Water content in California’s mountain snowpack is far below normal for this time of year,” stated the department’s press release.
 
Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 37 percent of normal for this date. For the CVP area, the relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 26 percent of the April 1 seasonal average for the northern Sierras, 20 percent for the central Sierras and 25 percent for the southern Sierras.
 
January is typically one of the wettest months, but with a lack of winter storms, state water managers have begun to express concerns about the need for more rain and snow.
 
“So far, we just haven’t received a decent number of winter storms,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin.
 
“Because last year was such an above-normal water year, starting water storage levels for Federal and state storage reservoirs are relatively higher than normal,” said Sierra Nevada Power Marketing Manager Sonja Anderson. This will help delay any affects to the power supply even if the snowpack doesn’t reach its average levels.
 
“As long as California receives normal to near normal precipitation levels for the rest of the water year, water and hydropower output for the Central Valley and state water projects would not be as detrimentally impacted as in past years,” said Anderson.
 
However, any reductions in the output of the Reclamation CVP power plants will raise the cost of Western’s CVP power to customers, which is marketed by the percent of hydropower available.

Reclamation Extends Comment Period on Glen Canyon Dam Operations EIS

After receiving a number of requests, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Park Service decided to extend the scoping period for a new Environmental Impact Statement related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River from Dec. 30 to Jan. 31.

During the scoping period, agencies determine what factors to consider in the EIS and gather comments from the public to identify social, economic and environmental concerns and project alternatives to evaluate.

The EIS, which is jointly led by Reclamation and the Park Service, involves adopting a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam.

The plan, the first comprehensive review of dam operations in 15 years, will ensure that regulated flows on the Colorado River meet the goals of supplying hydroelectricity and water for communities, agriculture and industry; protecting endangered species; and lessening the impact on downstream ecosystems, including the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon.

Changes to current water flows will be evaluated as “alternatives” in the EIS.

For more information on the EIS or how to submit a comment, visit the project’s web site.

Glen Canyon Dam study to help develop long-term operation plan

There are many competing needs in a river system for water. From farming irrigation and recreational activities (like boating and fishing) to environmental protection and hydropower production, these needs can be hard to prioritize and manage.

 To address operations on the Colorado River, the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation are developing a new Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for Glen Canyon Dam.

 As part of the development process, the agencies will co-lead a draft environmental impact statement and public scoping process to evaluate operation alternatives and receive public comments, respectively.

Impact on hydropower production

The resulting plan could change hydropower generation output, which is marketed by Western’s Colorado River Storage Project Management Center, and possibly implement a Recovery Implementation Program for endangered fish species below Glen Canyon Dam.

According to a notice of intent in the July 6 Federal Register, the comprehensive review of dam operations – the first since 1995 – “will provide a framework for adaptively managing Glen Canyon Dam over the next 15 to 20 years consistent with the [Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992] and other provisions of applicable Federal law.”

“We need to make use of the latest science to develop and implement a structured, long-term management plan for the Glen Canyon Dam that adheres to the Law of the River, respects the interests of the tribal nations, and sustains the health of the Grand Canyon and the communities that depend on its water, consistent with the Grand Canyon Protection Act,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a July 5 press release.

Between the dam’s completion in 1963 and 1990, dam operations strove to maximize hydropower generation. However, increasing environmental concerns of dam operations on downstream resources prompted the government to pass the GCPA, which directed DOI to conduct a study to minimize the impact of dam operations.

Following the study, a Record of Decision Oct. 9, 1996 from the Bureau implemented the current Modified Low Fluctuating Flow Alternative used today at the dam. In 1997, the Secretary of Interior adopted operating criteria for Glen Canyon Dam (62 FR 9447).

Boulder Canyon Project remarketing comment period extended

After receiving feedback from customers and Congress, Western extended the comment period for certain proposals related to the Boulder Canyon Project Post-2017 remarketing effort to Sept. 1. The extension also postponed applying BCP’s Power Marketing Initiative and implementing 30-year contracts until Dec. 31.

“This extension provides additional time for on-going legislative activities, as well as additional opportunity for interested parties, including Native American Tribes, to consult with Western and comment on the proposals,” said Darrick Moe, Western’s Desert Southwest regional manager, at the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing on S. 201, S. 333, S. 334, S. 419, S. 499, S. 519 and S. 808 May 19.

Western published the Application of the Energy Planning and Management Program Power Marketing Initiative to the Boulder Canyon Project notice in the Federal Register May 24, 2011, announcing the change and scheduling additional forums for feedback.

The FRN proposes Western be responsible for remarketing the firm power from Hoover Dam as an internal administrative process.

“This has the advantage of engaging in far more detailed discussions and negotiations than can be addressed by Congress, but with the drawback of unaccountability to taxpayers and ratepayers, potential lawsuits and re-igniting conflicts between the affected states,” said Congressman Tom McClintock, House Water and Power Subcommittee chairman, at the House Subcommittee on Water and Power Oversight Hearing on “Protecting Federal Hydropower Investments in the West: A Stakeholders Perspective” May 4.

Congress looks to amend Hoover Act

In the meantime, bills under debate in the House and Senate propose amending the Hoover Power Plant Act of 1984 to allocate dam power past 2017.

The bills would allocate power at cost-based rates for the project customers, with five percent set aside for new customers. It also proposes 50-year contracts to match up with the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, a 50-year non-Federal/Federal partnership designed to balance use of the water resource and compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

The legislation mostly matches Western’s FRN with a few notable exceptions, including: 

  • Different authority for remarketing
  • 50-year contracts
  • Omitting setting aside 30 megawatts for use as reserve if Western needs to balance power across its Desert Southwest projects

If passed, the law would eliminate the need for Western’s action under the FRN.