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Sacramento Municipal Utility District receives new 50-year hydro license from FERC

From the July 28, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published July 28, 2014

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California has received a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the continued operation of the Upper American River Project. The UARP is a 688-megawatt hydroelectric project that consists of 11 reservoirs and eight powerhouses spanning an area from the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the foothill communities of the Sacramento valley. The hydro project provides about 15 percent of the yearly power needs of SMUD customers.

"It is gratifying to receive a new 50-year license," SMUD General Manager and CEO Arlen Orchard said July 24. "It allows SMUD to continue to generate large quantities of non-carbon-emitting energy over the next 50 years from our most valuable, lowest-cost power supply."

The terms of the new license reflect formal agreements reached between SMUD and numerous stakeholders in the relicensing process, including state and federal resources agencies, environmental groups, local government, the whitewater boating community, and the general public. 

The new license "is the direct result of a collaborative effort by a large number of parties that worked together to find solutions to balance power generation and environmental protection," said Paul Lau, SMUD’s assistant general manager for power supply and grid operations.

The license includes a number of operational changes, recreation upgrades, and monitoring programs, and a project expansion. Under the new license, recreation at UARP storage reservoirs will be enhanced by SMUD maintaining minimum water levels during summer months.The utility also will embark on a 20-year program to upgrade all 52 existing UARP recreation facilities, including campgrounds, picnic areas, paved bike trails, hiking trails and shower facilities at a ski chalet. SMUD said it will release whitewater boating flows from two UARP reservoirs for kayaking and rafting, as well.  

SMUD said it will coordinate UARP operations with the downstream Chili Bar Hydroelectric Project, which is operated by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. This coordinated operations requirement will result in a set of guaranteed whitewater boating flows in a popular 20-mile commercial whitewater boating reach of the South Fork American River, downstream of PG&E’s project. "In essence, whitewater boating flows of a specified volume and duration will be provided every weekend for the next 50 years, greatly benefiting the thriving $30 million per year commercial rafting industry in El Dorado County," SMUD said.

The new license also directs SMUD to move forward with the design and potential construction of the proposed Iowa Hill pumped-storage development. This development, which circulates water between a lower and upper reservoir, would add a significant level of operating flexibility that would help SMUD balance supply and demand on the grid, the utility said. SMUD will continue to evaluate the feasibility of building the development over the next three years, before the SMUD board of directors determines whether to proceed with construction. 

Over the next month, SMUD staff will review the new license to determine if it makes significant changes from the agreements reached between SMUD and the relicensing stakeholders. Should it decide to do so, SMUD has 30 days from the day the license is issued to file an appeal of any portion of the license.


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