Pumped Storage

Pumped-storage hydropower is a type of hydroelectric energy storage. It is a configuration of two water reservoirs at different elevations that can generate power (discharge) as water moves down through a turbine; this draws power as it pumps water (recharge) to the upper reservoir. energy.gov

What’s Happening

Two massive pumped storage proposals have come to the Eastern Sierra’s public lands. Building the necessary reservoirs and power facilities will consume scarce water and impact important cultural areas, wildlands, and fish and wildlife habitats in Inyo and Mono County.

Haiwee Pumped Storage

Premium Energy proposes to use water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct and requires construction of an upper and lower reservoir, located either on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Inyo National Forest. One upper reservoir site is proposed in Haiwee Canyon west of Highway 395, and overlaps with a recommended addition to the South Sierra Wilderness under the new Inyo National Forest Management Plan. This location has since been denied by FERC. The project’s two other alternative upper reservoirs are east of Highway 395 in Little Cactus Flat and McCloud Flat, both places of key significance to Native American tribes in the Eastern Sierra. The reservoirs are also located with Conservation Lands, Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. The lower reservoir would be an expansion of the existing North Haiwee Reservoir.

We can only expect this game of pumped storage project “whack-a-mole” to continue as private industry pursues opportunities for pumped storage projects across wild locations throughout California, including Inyo and Mono Counties. These pumped storage proposals are part of a larger energy development vision for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power operations including upgraded transmission lines and potential new solar installations in the Owens Valley. 

Owens Valley Pumped Storage

Three different amendments over four months included proposals with reservoirs located in the John Muir Wilderness, the Congressionally designated Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and in Forest Service proposed recommended wilderness, as well as penstocks and tunnels across Wilderness Study Areas and other culturally and ecologically sensitive areas. Due to local opposition and numerous resource conflicts the project proponent withdrew their application in August of 2019. However, Premium energy continues to seek permits for the Haiwee project, and could propose even more sensitive locations to develop reservoirs.

Why It Matters

Friends of the Inyo believes in the urgent need to move away from fossil-fueled energy. We are encouraged by the increased interest in the development of new sources of renewable energy (RE) and evaluate RE projects on a case by case basis on public lands. Although we need to act quickly to combat climate change, renewable energy projects should not destroy the Eastern Sierra’s natural resources and outdoor economy and must be properly sited.

Unfortunately the projects recently proposed for pumped storage do not make sense here because we lack the infrastructure of existing renewable energy power and the water resources. Each of the proposed upper reservoirs in the Haiwee Pumped Storage project forecast holding capacity of over 40,000 acre feet of water. Furthermore the Haiwee Pumped Storage proposal has significant conflicts with existing land use management designations and adverse impacts to species as well as cultural and recreational resources. 

What We’re Doing About It

Friends of the Inyo continues to challenge the Haiwee Pumped Storage proposal located in Southern Inyo County and is in close communication with lead agencies and organizations working on the effort.

In March 2020, FERC issued Premium Energy a two year preliminary permit for the Haiwee Pumped Storage project. This permit acts as a priority placeholder for Premium Energy in a future application. This allows Premium Energy to conduct feasibility studies and informal outreach with local stakeholders without concern of having the project developed by another company. Over the permit period, the people of the Eastern Sierra should expect two things:

  1. Premium Energy plan submission to BLM for ground studies.
  2. Informal outreach from Premium Energy representatives.

Administrative process and challenges

These studies and outreach will serve to build Premium Energy’s Preliminary Application Document (PAD) that they will then file with FERC, likely near the end of their two year permit. If Premium Energy submits a plan to the BLM for ground studies, this will result in a NEPA process. Either an Environmental Assessment (EA), Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), or Categorical Exemption (CE) will be required triggering a period for public comment and action. Friends of the Inyo will release an action alert to assure all of our subscribers are aware and have the opportunity to be involved. Together we can stop these destructive projects from irreparably harming the Eastern Sierra.

Take Action

Read the Project Documents

Visit the FREC website and search
for docket number P-14991. 

Send a Letter

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Inyo County Board of Supervisors


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Premium Energy Granted Preliminary Permit for Haiwee Pumped Storage Project

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Haiwee Pumped Storage Update

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Pump Storage threat comes to the Eastern Sierra

Through a public notice and the diligence of our members and supporters, we recently learned of a proposal submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for construction of a large pump storage facility in the Wheeler Crest, Rock Creek and Owens River Gorge. Pump storage involves pumping water up-slope during times of low energy use/high energy production and then releasing it (in pipes in this case) downhill to create electricity when additional energy is required. This massive proposed project would impact the communities of Round Valley, Paradise and Swall Meadows. The project is within habitat for the endangered Sierra…