Area hydro projects shut down, endangered by California fire

Several hydropower projects in California’s Sierra Nevada shut down temporarily due to danger from a giant California wildfire but no major damage was reported to hydro facilities.

The King Fire, believed started by arson Sept. 13, continued to burn over more than 75,000 acres Sept. 25, mainly in forests of El Dorado and Placer counties of California, west of Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border.

The fire caused temporary shutdown of power deliveries from a handful of hydropower projects operated by Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Placer County Water Agency and El Dorado Irrigation District.

“The fire impacted two of our powerhouses in the Upper American River project, at (144-MW) Camino and at (123-MW) Jaybird, but they were largely undamaged as were our transmission lines,” SMUD spokesman Chris Capra said. “Two 230-kilovolt transmission lines were taken off line as a precaution in the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 14. They were put back in service last Friday, Sept. 19.”

The 1,037.3-MW Upper American River project (No. 2101) includes seven operating developments, plus the recently authorized 400-MW Iowa Hill Pumped-Storage project.

“The biggest impact probably was that we were unable to generate power in that timeframe,” Capra said. “We are generating power again at Camino and (224-MW) White Rock powerhouses. They are in the lower reaches of the Upper American River project.”

Capra said SMUD had no problem serving load and meeting its 600,000-plus customer demand, drawing on its thermal, wind and other transmission resources. He said any monetary damage from the fires is yet to be determined.

The Auburn, Calif.-based Placer County Water Agency it had critically important power generation, residential, maintenance and storage facilities in the path of the fire. The PCWA board authorized emergency action to procure supplies and manpower to protect and repair any damage to its 223.753-MW Middle Fork American River project (No. 2079).

The agency reported support structures for the project’s 725-kW Hell Hole hydro development appeared intact but still endangered due to unstable fire conditions. A plant operator was evacuated from the development just ahead of the wind-swept fire.

“Sedimentation into the county’s waterways will become a major environmental concern once rain and runoff occurs this year and next,” Einar Maisch, PCWA director of strategic affairs, said.

PCWA Director of Power Generation Services Jay L’Estrange said a major Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power line leading from two of PCWA’s five hydro plants was out of service as a result of the fire. PG&E’s Dave Ward said crews were standing by to replace damaged poles and power lines.

PG&E said it was working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the U.S. Forest Service and other first responders to de-energize power lines as needed to ensure safety of firefighters and the public. The utility said crews already were setting new poles, stringing new lines and removing dangerous damaged trees in some areas that burned. The fire was reported to be 18 percent contained.

Placerville-based El Dorado Irrigation District reported the fire came within a mile of wooden flumes delivering water to its 21-MW El Dorado hydroelectric project (No. 184). Although facilities were not damaged, the district evacuated 17 people from its hydropower system headquarters, shutting down its generating system for four days.


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