By Deb Murphy
You’ve got to give Premium Energy, LLC credit for trying. In the Walnut company’s second amendment to its application for a permit to study the feasibility of a closed-loop hydro power project in the Eastern Sierra, Premium now has abandoned three reservoirs in or near the John Muir Wilderness. The upper part of the hydro-loop is now proposed for Silver Canyon in the White Mountains.
The latest amendment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was dated May 19. Mono County had to scramble to record its objections in time for its Board of Supervisors discussion Tuesday, May 21. A member of the Inyo County’s Board of Supervisors became aware of the latest iteration just prior to its meeting on the same day.
The pipes carrying the water up and down the Whites will now be buried. The lower reservoirs will be in the Owens River Gorge where the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also has power-related infrastructure. Pipes from the reservoirs merge into one that crosses Fish Slough, home to the endangered pup fish, before it rises to the White Mountain reservoirs, located between 7,715 and 8,855 feet above sea level.
The electricity generated at three buried power stations will tap into existing, but improved, transmission lines. Premium has a few alternatives as to how this will be done. One alternative is to run lines in the LADWP Aqueduct.
The project conjures up an image of engineers sitting in their Walnut offices and, with the help of an aerial map of the Eastern Sierra, throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.
Premium seems to have had little if any contact with any agencies involved. LADWP’s public information office confirmed that the department has had no contact from Premium. Senior Assistant General Manager for Water Systems Richard Harasick “reached out to them…but never heard back.”
Mono County requested a meeting with Premium Energy’s principals, but did not hear back.
“There’s not much diligence,” said Mono Supervisor Fred Stump whose district includes the Owens Gorge. “They’ve not analyzing the locations.” Stump pointed out the court order that protects fish in the Gorge and the failure of a LADWP penstock in the 1990s, “We have legitimate concerns,” he said.
Stump also questioned the economic feasibility of the massive project, citing the cost of dealing with environmental issues. “Digital 395 budgeted $2.5 million for environmental work,” he said. “They ended up spending $21 million.” And that was just burying a relatively thin cable.
Mono County’s letter to Premium and the FERC in response to this latest version of the project goes through a check list of issues:
The project passes through Aras of Critical Environmental Concern, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife ecological reserve, a Wilderness Study Area with the upper reservoirs in an Inventoried Roadless Area.
The project area appears to be geologically unstable with multiple faults.
The reservoirs in the Gorge would devastate the local fishery.
The proposed project area includes sensitive Native American tribal cultural resources.
The letter closes with a statement obvious to area residents: “The lack of basic knowledge of the area is alarming and certainly dos not inspire confidence in Premium’s ability to manage a project of this scale.”