U.S. regulator sees $1.3 billion price for 500-MW Lake Elsinore

Developers say they will proceed with the 500-MW Lake Elsinore pumped-storage project despite an estimate by federal regulators that nearly doubles the original cost estimate of the California project.

A draft environmental impact statement by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff estimates the project, at Lake Elsinore and San Juan Creek in Riverside County, Calif., will cost $1.3 billion. Developers Nevada Hydro Co. and Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District initially said the project would cost $720 million.

Nevada Hydro spokesman Chris Wysocki said the project’s only major investor, Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution, will back the project even if the cost is nearer $1.3 billion.

FERC’s Office of Energy Projects released the draft EIS for comment Feb. 17, saying it did not think the applicants’ cost estimate properly accounted for site-specific geological and groundwater conditions. FERC staff did note the project might be built for less if site conditions are better than it assumes.

FERC staff suggests moving reservoir, powerhouse, lines

The license applicants (No. 11858) propose to build and operate a project that would include an upper reservoir in Morrell Canyon, a powerhouse at Santa Rosa, and a transmission line that crosses Cleveland National Forest. Lake Elsinore would serve as the project’s lower reservoir.

The draft EIS said the applicants’ proposal would disrupt flows in the San Juan Creek drainage, displace Lion Spring, remove about 20 acres of wetlands and riparian forest, reroute Morgan Trail, interfere with fire suppression activities, and curtail the use of hang gliding launching sites in Cleveland National Forest and an informal landing site at Ortega Oaks.

FERC’s staff proposed an alternative that would move the upper reservoir to another location, Decker Canyon; a powerhouse to another site, Ortega Oaks; and realign proposed transmission lines. Staff said its alternative would avoid effects on Morrell Canyon, Lion Spring, and Morgan Trail, and would reduce the amount of loss of wetlands and riparian forest. The new transmission alignment, which runs west of the most popular hang gliding launch sites, might reduce the effects of the project on hang gliding activities and avoid conflicts with fire suppression activities.

Comments on the project and proposed alternatives are due by April 25 to Magalie Salas, Secretary, FERC, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20426. Commission staff will consider comments in preparing a final EIS, to be issued in July.

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