FERC rejects PG&E app on permit for pumped storage project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Dec. 10 rejected a Pacific Gas & Electric application for another two years under a preliminary permit for a major pumped storage hydroelectric project.

On October 30, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) filed an application for a two-year extension of its successive preliminary permit for the proposed Mokelumne Pumped Storage Project. The proposed project would be located on the North Fork Mokelumne River, Bear River and Cole Creek, in Amador and Calaveras counties, California. 

In September 2008, commission staff issued PG&E a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the Mokelumne Project. The project would consist of: the existing Lower Bear River Reservoir, with a surface area of 746 acres, storage capacity of 49,079 acre-feet, and normal water surface elevation of 5,822 feet mean sea level (msl) as the upper reservoir, with the possibility of a dam raise to increase capacity; a 16,000-foot-long power tunnel including intake structure and penstock; the existing Salt Springs reservoir, with a surface area of 960 acres, storage capacity of 141,817 acre-feet, and a normal water surface elevation of 3,959 feet msl as the lower reservoir; a powerhouse with a total installed capacity between 300 MW and 1,200 MW; and a 230 or 500 kV overhead transmission. The annual electrical production would be between 396 and 1,584 gigawatt-hours.

The permit expired in August 2011, but PG&E got a three-year extension. But, FERC is very reluctant to grant a second extension in such cases.

“The Commission has rarely authorized the reservation of a site under a preliminary permit for a period longer than six years to the same applicant, unless some extraordinary circumstance or factor outside the control of the permittee is present,” FERC wrote. “In most cases, three years should be enough time to consult with resource agencies and conduct any studies necessary to prepare a development application, and six years should be more than enough time. In its October 30 request for extension, PG&E states that a two-year extension of its permit is needed in order to secure additional funding for the project and to continue to study the project’s feasibility.

“While PG&E has filed timely progress reports under standard Article 4 of the permit, there is no evidence of extraordinary circumstances or factors outside of its control over the duration of its permit preventing it from preparing a development application. The progress reports do not contain evidence of agency consultation, studies performed, or other specific information evidencing progress toward the development of a license application. There is no evidence of planning activities for completing the requisite Notice of Intent to File an Application for a New License and Pre-Application document or choosing a licensing process. Rather, PG&E appears to still be in the early stages of studying the need and feasibility of the project and is far from being ready to file a license application. 

“Although PG&E states in its extension request that it wants to preserve the option to develop the Mokelumne Project, allowing PG&E to reserve the Mokelumne Project site an additional two years beyond its already six years of study would contribute to site banking. The essence of the Commission’s policy against site banking is that an entity that is unwilling or unable to develop a site should not be permitted to maintain the exclusive right to develop it.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.