FERC issues new 50-year license for major SMUD hydro facility

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) said July 24 that it has received a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the continued operation of the Upper American River Project (UARP).

Upper American is a 688-MW 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 UARP provides about 15% of SMUD’s customers’ yearly power needs.

The terms of the new license reflect the results of 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. 

“It is gratifying to receive a new 50-year license,” said SMUD General Manager and CEO Arlen Orchard. “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 license contains a number of operational changes, recreation upgrades and monitoring programs. It also includes a project expansion that will further enhance natural resources in the project area and energy-related value derived from the hydro project. Increases in the volume of water released from reservoirs into streams and rivers will benefit natural resources. Aquatic resources in all eight tributaries of the project will benefit from increases in minimum flow releases, and new high-volume pulse flows will wash fine material from streambeds. 

Under the new license, recreation at UARP storage reservoirs will be enhanced by SMUD maintaining minimum water levels during summer months. SMUD will also embark on a 20-year program to upgrade all 52 existing UARP recreation facilities. 

 Under the new license, SMUD will coordinate UARP operations with the downstream Chili Bar Hydroelectric Project, which is operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) (NYSE: PCG).

This coordinated operations requirement will result in a set of guaranteed whitewater boating flows in the popular 20-mile commercial whitewater boating reach of the South Fork American River, downstream of PG&E’s project.

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. It would play a crucial role in allowing SMUD to develop larger supplies of intermittent wind and solar power.

As directed in the new license, 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 30 days SMUD staff will review the new license to determine if it contains 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.        

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.