SMUD seeks to drop 400-MW Iowa Hill pumped storage hydro from FERC license

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Saying that costs are too high and the need too little, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to let it drop the 400-MW Iowa Hill pumped storage project from an existing hydro license.

SMUD filed the application on May 25, and FERC put it up for public comment on Aug. 25. The deadline for filing comments, motions to intervene and protests is 30 days from the issuance date of this Aug. 25 notice.

This involves the Upper American River Hydroelectric Project, located on Silver Creek and the Rubicon and South Fork American rivers in El Dorado and Sacramento counties, California.

SMUD proposes to delete the Iowa Hill Pump Storage Development from its license. The district said it is unlikely that it would need any significant portion of the Iowa Hill Development’s 400-MW capacity and that the estimated cost of construction is significantly higher than expected at the time of licensing. This proposal would not result in any physical or operational changes to the project. In addition, the licensee is requesting that the license provisions solely related to the Iowa Hill Development be deleted from the license.

This license had been issued in July 2014. SMUD has not commenced construction of Iowa Hill.

In its application for this new license, SMUD had proposed a new, off-stream, 400 MW pumped storage component that would utilize the existing Slab Creek Reservoir as the lower reservoir, and a new upper reservoir to be constructed atop the adjacent hillside. The Iowa Hill Development would occupy 185 acres of federal land within the Eldorado National Forest.

The new license set deadlines for commencement of construction within five years of license issuance, and for completion of construction with 10 years of license issuance.

Said the May 25 SMUD letter to FERC: “Following license issuance, SMUD conducted extensive environmental and geotechnical studies, construction impact assessments, permitting work, drilling of groundwater monitoring wells, and engineering studies of the Iowa Hill Development. While SMUD found no technical impediments to development, SMUD’s construction cost estimate for the Iowa Hill Development based on a 2015 analysis increased from an estimated range (in 2007 dollars) of $552-850 million at the time of licensing, to almost $1.5 billion (in 2015 dollars) including necessary transmission system upgrades. SMUD also conducted a comprehensive forecast of SMUD’s potential energy storage needs in the coming decades and determined the Iowa Hill Development is unlikely to be needed. Accordingly, on February 4, 2016, the SMUD Board of Directors passed a resolution directing that SMUD request this license amendment to rescind the authorization to construct the Iowa Hill Development and remove all related requirements from the license.”

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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