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Auburn, Calif.- Local agencies are losing capacity to produce clean renewable hydroelectric energy because of a decentralized permitting process, while at the same time California and the nation are trying to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, a local water official told a congressional committee on June 27.

Placer County Water Agency Director of Strategic Affairs Einar Maisch on Thursday


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(July 5) briefed the PCWA Board of Directors on his recent visit to Washington, D.C. and his testimony before the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee.

Maisch told the committee that an average of 8-10 percent of hydroelectric generation capacity is being lost by local agencies across the nation as they go through the federal relicensing process.  These losses are often due to mandatory conditioning authority exercised by select federal and state resource agencies that can require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue new licenses that redirect water away from generation to enhance environmental conditions for species under those resource agencies’ jurisdictions. 

Maisch said PCWA has spent $37 million to date in efforts to obtain a new federal license to operate the Middle Fork Project, which the agency built in 1963-67 with the proceeds from a $140 million local bond issue passed by the voters of Placer County. “We began our scientific studies five years early and we’ve done seven years of collaborative work to demonstrate the health of the Middle Fork American River watershed,” he said. The result is, he said, “we only anticipate a 5 percent loss in energy production.”  Additionally, under new terms and conditions the agency expects to spend $20 million in capital improvements, $2.4 million a year in additional operational costs and another $1 million per year in direct cash payments to resource agencies.  “Under the current regulatory framework, this is what success looks like.”

Maisch said the difficulties are in the law. “The problem lies in the structure of the current process, where individual state and federal resource agencies with narrow charters mandate costly conditions which cannot be balanced against other national environmental priorities such as maintaining the flexibility to incorporate non-dispatchable renewable energy sources into the grid, or economic considerations. The resource agencies are not to blame per se; they are simply carrying out their narrowly focused mission to protect the resources under their separate jurisdictions. The problem is that no one is empowered to balance competing interests.” He encouraged Congress to revise and streamline federal licensing regulations, provide greater authority to FERC to balance resource needs and electric generation value, require clear definitions and give options to local agencies that may seek to propose and implement alternative conditions and solutions.

The testimony was part of a hearing titled, “Mandatory Conditioning Requirements on Hydropower: How Federal Resource Agencies are Driving Up Electricity Costs and Decreasing the Original Green Energy.” “It’s a problem that needs to be solved and we’ve been offered an opportunity to help develop that legislation,” said Maisch.

PCWA Board Chairman Mike Lee and other members of the board applauded the agency’s effort and encouraged Maisch and General Manager David Breninger to remain engaged in the process and provide follow-up information as needed.

In other business, PCWA directors:

  • heard an update from Director of Technical Services Brian Martin who said construction of a new water tank at the Electric Street Reservoir site in Auburn is set to begin by early August. PCWA has set a neighborhood meeting to introduce the project and hear any concerns from area residents. The meeting will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 24, at the PCWA Business Center in Auburn. All interested members of the public are welcome.
  • heard a report from Director of Field Services Mike Nichol on a water main line rupture that occurred June 29 near Nevada Street and Highway 49 in Auburn, affecting several businesses in the area. Repairs were completed on two sections of pipe and service was restored the next day. He said water customers were “very gracious and understanding.”
  • recognized five college students who are completing summer internships with the PCWA Engineering Department. Introduced were Shelby Miller of Auburn, Stephanie Yanez of Penryn, Reyna Schenck of Roseville, Curtis James of Loomis and John Heltzel of Sacramento.