Update: Eastern Sierra Pumped Storage Projects

Looking west toward Haiwee Ridge as the sun begins to set

Premium Energy Holdings, LLC (PE) is proposing two massive pumped storage projects in the Eastern Sierra that could impact local communities, recreational uses, and habitats in Inyo and Mono County. Pumped storage involves pumping water up-slope during times of low energy demand/high energy production and then releasing it (in pipes or tunnels) downhill to power turbines and generate electricity when additional energy is required.

On May 24, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency that regulates hydropower projects including pumped storage, rejected the company’s application that proposed multiple “closed-loop” reservoir/pum systems within Wheeler Ridge’s John Muir Wilderness.  This proposal would have created around 60 miles of underground tunnels beneath the Volcanic Tablelands Wilderness Study Area. FERC indicated that its rejection was based on FERC regulations that require companies to file individual applications for each “closed-loop” pair of upper and lower reservoirs.

 

Geologic formations of Wyman Canyon where pumped storage development is proposed

On May 28, the company re-filed their application, this time shifting their focus to Wyman Canyon and Birch Creek within the White Mountains. This new application proposes an upper reservoir in Wyman Canyon or alternatively a reservoir in Birch Creek, both on the wild and remote east slope of the range. The drilling of penstocks would likely be within the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Riparian species such as the Panamint Alligator Lizard and Black Toad are at risk. Additional project information can be found by entering the project’s docket number (P-14996) on this FERC web page. The agency’s website also offers interested persons the opportunity to comment on projects and to sign up for project updates.

Premium Energy also submitted a similar proposal near Haiwee Reservoir in southern Inyo County, the “Haiwee Pumped Storage Project”. This project would have one upper reservoir and one lower reservoir with either an underground pressure tunnel or above ground penstock connecting them. The filling of the reservoirs would be carried out by using the water conveyed through the existing LA Aqueduct. The lower reservoir would be located between the existing North Haiwee Reservoir and the privately held Butterworth Ranch. Three alternative locations are proposed for the upper reservoir. Two of these alternative upper reservoir sites are located in the Coso Range Wilderness, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The other alternative places an upper reservoir site within the South Sierra Recommended Wilderness Addition in the Draft Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan, which is to be finalized this summer. It would also most certainly impact the community of Sage Flat and the Sierra Glen Ranch. Additional project information can be found by entering the project’s docket number (P-14991) on the FERC web page. The agency’s website also offers interested persons the opportunity to comment on projects and to sign up for project updates.

 

Comments (2)

seriously… where will they get the water for the project?

This is the ugly side of California’s push for 100% renewable energy by the middle of the century. It’s a good overall goal, to be sure, but unfortunately small hydro was classified as renewable, whereas large hydro was excluded for the time being. Over the next few decades, there will probably be many more of these to fight.

There’s a balance — any renewable energy will have some environmental footprint — but hydro projects are among the worst.

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