Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the possibility of applying for a license to operate a remote Mendocino County hydropower project, marking the first move to maintain a long-standing water transfer deemed critical to residents and ranchers in both counties.
A coalition of five Mendocino County agencies and California Trout, a 50-year-old environmental nonprofit, are collaborating with Sonoma County’s water agency in the consideration of taking over the federal license for the Potter Valley Project, which delivers 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River basin.
Each of the three partners is putting $100,000 into the study, an amount dwarfed by the potential cost of establishing free passage for the Eel River’s protected salmon and steelhead — likely a requisite step to extend the project’s life.
PG&E, the state’s largest utility now in bankruptcy, surrendered the project in January, upending the license renewal process, and no entity has responded to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) call for a new operator.
The utility, which had owned the project since 1930, said it was no longer economical to operate a plant that generated less than 1 percent of its power.
But the water flowing through the powerhouse is virtually invaluable to the towns and ranches along the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and is a critical source for Sonoma Water, which delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county customers.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9598819-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-future
PG&E announced last week that it was withdrawing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process as well as the effort to sell the Potter Valley Project. California Trout has been engaged in both proceedings and are hopeful this development will create a favorable environment to continue working towards a two-basin solution.
From Pacific Gas and Electric:
Today PG&E submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission providing our “Notice of Withdrawal of Notice Of Intent to File License Application and Pre-Application Document” for the Potter Valley Project. As a result, PG&E will expeditiously cease all activities related to the relicensing of the Project. Our decision to cease Project relicensing will also result in the stoppage of our efforts to sell the Project via the Request for Offers (RFO) process.
Although the timing is unclear at this point, we anticipate that PG&E’s action will result in FERC initiating its Orphan Project process. In accordance with the Orphan process, FERC will provide interested parties the opportunity to submit an application for a new Project license. We believe this path will allow interested parties more time to prepare for the acquisition of the Project and the ability to submit a License Application on their own terms rather than assuming PG&E’s current application. If the Orphan process does not result in the issuance of a new Project License, it is expected FERC will order PG&E to prepare and submit a Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.
Source: Email from California Trout, read more about the Potter Valley Project at: https://caltrout.org/regions/north-coast-region/keystone-initiative-eel-river-recovery/potter-valley-project-and-ferc-relicensing/
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.
The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.
It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.
Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power
Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
As he sets out to lead the way in rebuilding the North Bay after the October wildfires, Sonoma County developer, newspaper owner and Democratic Party power broker Darius Anderson’s Platinum Advisors is also lobbying on behalf of PG&E’s post-fire interests in Sacramento.
According to the California Secretary of State (see graphic above), Platinum Advisors was hired by the utility on March 28, just as a Senate bill that’s squarely targeted at PG&E’s fire liability was scheduled to make its way through the committee process in the Senate.
Sponsored by a quartet of state senators, including North Bay pols Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, SB 819 sets out to limit the extent to which electric utilities can pass off fees and fines to ratepayers.
According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, SB 819 enhances the state’s current ability to regulate rate hikes; California law already gives the state Public Utilities Commission leverage to “fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable.”
The current regulations prohibit gas corporations from “recovering any fine or penalty in any rate approved by the commission,” and SB 819 extends that prohibition to gas and electric corporations such as PG&E, which is based in San Francisco, provides power to some 16 million California residents and is the dominant investor-owned utility in the state.
Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/TheFishingReport/archives/2018/04/17/sonoma-power-broker-darius-anderson-signs-on-as-pgande-lobbyist
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.
Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.
Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.
Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.
The work is already underway by contract tree-cutting crews along roads and across private property and should be completed by the end of the year, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The utility, which serves about 16 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield, has been faulted in multiple lawsuits alleging poorly maintained power lines were responsible for the series of fires that started Oct. 8. The cause of those fires remains under investigation by the state.
Read more at: PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region
Paul Rogers, Lisa M. Krieger and Matthias Gaffni, BAY AREA NEWS GROUP
Investigators are looking at power line failures as a possible cause of the historic fires.
The heavy winds that downed power lines Sunday night at the start of the deadly wildfires raging across Northern California were far from “hurricane strength,” as PG&E has claimed, according to a review of weather station readings.
On Tuesday, the Bay Area News Group reported that Sonoma County emergency dispatchers sent fire crews to at least 10 reports of downed power lines and exploding transformers as the North Bay fires were starting around 9:22 p.m.
In response, PG&E said that “hurricane strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases” had damaged their equipment, but they said it was too early to speculate about what started the fires.
However, wind speeds were only about half that level, as the lines started to come down, the weather station records show. At a weather station in north Santa Rosa where the Tubbs fire started, the peak wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. hit 30 mph. An hour later, they were 41 mph.
Similarly, at another weather station east of the city of Napa, on Atlas Peak, where the Atlas fire started, wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. peaked at 32 mph. An hour later they were 30 mph.
Both speeds were substantially under the speed that power lines must be able to withstand winds under state law: at least 56 mph.
Read more at: Fire cause mystery: Winds not ‘hurricane strength’ as PG&E said
Nicholas Iovino, COURTHOUSE NEWS
Pacific Gas and Electric’s operation of dams, tunnels and a 109-year-old power plant on Northern California’s Eel River harms endangered salmon and steelhead, two conservation groups claim in a new lawsuit.
California River Watch and Coast Action Group sued the utility giant in federal court Friday, claiming its management of the Potter Valley Project in Mendocino County threatens endangered Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“The project water diversions have reduced flows and increased water temperatures in various parts of the Eel River, in addition to altering important environmental cues that, for example, tell fish when to spawn or begin their outmigration,” the 12-page complaint states.
The groups claim the project also creates conditions that are beneficial to the predatory Sacramento pike minnow, which further threatens the endangered fish.
Earlier this year, PG&E filed its intent to renew its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to run the 109-year-old irrigation and hydropower system. Its existing license expires in April 2022.
Read more at: PG&E Project Blamed for Harming Endangered Fish in NorCal River
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Bay pioneered a new type of public energy program in California seven years ago that now appears poised to change who buys electricity for homes and businesses across large swaths of the state.The programs, of which Sonoma Clean Power was an early leader, have expanded dramatically over the past several years.
Their growth is leading experts to examine how well the programs are boosting the use of renewable electricity compared to the private utilities that formerly served the same communities.
The growth is also prompting a face-off between the public programs and California’s three biggest private utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric. In the dispute, both sides have suggested their ratepayers are getting a bum deal in how the state has set the rules for this new era. For the public programs, the outcome has high-stakes implications because their customers could end up paying considerably more to offset the growing costs for excess power that the utilities contracted for but no longer need.
The public programs, typically known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, agencies, have grown to control about 5 percent of the state’s electricity market, a new study reports. But both utilities and other experts say that number will increase markedly as other communities join the trend.
“I think everyone who’s watching this thinks that there is going to be very rapid growth in the coming years,” said Matthew Freedman, an attorney in San Francisco with the Utility Reform Network, a ratepayer advocacy group known as TURN. Some utilities, he said, have predicted that half their customers could switch to the public programs within a decade.
Read more at: Sonoma Clean Power, utilities face battle over energy costs | The Press Democrat