Final FERC EIS recommends relicensing 223.753-MW Middle Fork American hydropower project

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a final environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of the 223.753-MW Middle Fork American River hydropower project in California.

Operated by Placer County Water Agency on the Middle Fork American and Rubicon rivers, Middle Fork American (No. 2079) includes five developments: 15.3-MW French Meadows, 725-kW Hell Hole, 122.4-MW Middle Fork, 79.2-MW Ralston, and 6.128-MW Oxbow.

The final EIS, issued Feb. 22, includes many of the findings of a draft EIS issued by FERC staff in 2012. Using FERC’s integrated licensing process, PCWA filed to relicense the project in February 2011.

Although PCWA proposed no change in installed capacity, it did propose increasing the height of Duncan Creek, North Fork Long Canyon Creek, and South Fork Long Canyon Creek diversion dams to increase storage of the diversion impoundments. It also proposed adding 6-foot-tall spillway crest gates to Hell Hole Dam to allow storage of additional water during the spring and summer for increased generation in the fall and winter.

The licensee also proposed pulse and higher minimum instream flow releases, defined ramping rates, scheduled whitewater boating releases, measures to protect sensitive species, measures to maintain and enhance recreational opportunities, and development of management and monitoring plans covering a range of resources.

The EIS considered the applicant proposal, a no-action proposal leaving project operations unchanged, an applicant alternative proposal, and PCWA’s original proposal with staff modifications.

“We chose the staff alternative as the preferred alternative because: (1) the project would provide a dependable source of electrical energy for the region (985,877 MWh annually); (2) the project could save an equivalent amount of fossil-fueled generation and capacity, which may help conserve non-renewable energy resources and reduce atmospheric pollution, including greenhouse gases; and (3) the recommended environmental measures proposed by PCWA, as modified by staff, would adequately protect and enhance environmental resources affected by the project.”

The EIS found, under the no-action alternative, annual project power in the first year would cost $23 million, or $22.20 per megawatt-hour, less than the cost of alternative power. Under PCWA’s proposal, power would cost $19.3 million, or $19.41 per MWh, less than alternative power. Under the staff alternative, power would cost $18.6 million, or $18.90 per MWh, less than the cost of alternative power.

The EIS may be obtained from the FERC Internet site, www.ferc.gov, under https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=13188072.

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