FERC staff backs licensing 1,300-MW Eagle Mountain pumped-storage

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a draft environmental impact statement recommending the licensing of the 1,300-MW Eagle Mountain pumped-storage project, proposed for Riverside County, Calif.

Eagle Crest Energy Co. applied in 2009 for a hydropower license for the project (No. 13123), which is to utilize a head of 1,400 feet between two reservoirs created from abandoned mining pits. It would be a closed system, not linked to a perennial river.

Because the former mining site already has sustained significant environmental disturbance, further development of the site for pumped storage will have little additional environmental impact, Eagle Crest said. The pumped-storage project is to provide energy storage needed to efficiently utilize intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy.

The draft EIS analyzes the effects of the project as proposed by Eagle Crest, as well as the applicant’s proposal plus staff modifications primarily to mitigate environmental effects.

“Based on its analysis, staff recommends licensing the project as proposed by Eagle Crest with some staff modifications and additional measures,” the draft EIS, issued Dec. 23, said.

The primary environmental issues associated with the project are effects of its construction and operation on groundwater, water quality, and terrestrial species, including several sensitive bat species, the desert bighorn sheep, and the threatened desert tortoise.

The project includes construction of two saddle dams and liners for the proposed reservoirs. Groundwater is to be pumped from a series of proposed wells in the Chuckwalla Basin to fill the reservoirs and replace water lost to evaporation. A reverse osmosis system is to be installed to remove salts and metals from the reservoirs to help maintain water quality of the reservoirs and counteract degradation associated with evaporation.

The Eagle Mountain mine had been the largest employer in the area until its closure in 1983. Construction of the pumped-storage project would employ about 100 during peak construction and provide tax revenues to county and local governments. Project operation would provide about 30 jobs and substantial property tax payments.

The project, with staff modifications, would produce power in the first year that is $133.1 million, or about $30.91 per megawatt-hour, less than the cost of alternative power.

The draft EIS may be obtained from FERC’s Internet site at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp. The agency is taking comments on the draft until Feb. 28, 2011.

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