Dams on Wheeler Ridge? Wait.What?
On March 28, Premium Energy Holdings, based in Walnut, California, filed an application for a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which, it’s safe to say, has stunned Swall Meadows residents.
The permit would grant Premium Energy permission to further study the company’s proposed Owens Valley Pumped Storage Project.
The project contemplates the erection of three large dams on Wheeler Ridge above the community of Swall Meadows which would generate a projected 5,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power.
Here’s the vision.
During the day, water would be pumped uphill, in pipes bored underground through the Swall community, using cheap solar power, to reservoirs created on Wheeler Ridge. At night, the water would be released, generating power during peak demand periods, when it is far more expensive.
In short, electricity arbitrage.
The water would then be collected at a lower reservoir (either at Lower Rock Creek or Owens Gorge) and be reused again and again in a continuous feedback loop – a closed system.
Pumped Storage is acknowledged as being far more efficient than storing energy in massive lithium-ion batteries.
According to a story which appeared last year in the New York Times, “Lazard, the financial advisory and asset management firm, has estimated that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project.”
But is the proposed project even possible?
The Wheeler Crest area lies within the John Muir Wilderness boundary.
Section 4 of the Wilderness Act of 1964 asserts, “there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area.”
However, Special Provisions Section 4(d) appears to authorize an exception. “The President may, within a specific area and in accordance with such regulations as he may deem desirable, authorize prospecting for water resources, the establishment and maintenance of reservoirs, water-conservation works, power projects, transmission lines, and other facilities needed in the public interest, including the road construction and maintenance essential to development and use thereof, upon his determination that such use or uses in the specific area will better serve the interests of the United States and the people thereof than will its denial.”
And as neighborhood resident Tom Hopkins said ruefully this week, “In the Trumpian era, anything can happen that we formerly thought was out-of-bounds.”
Premium Energy’s CEO Victor Rojas told The Sheet this week that his firm has already received a letter from a member of the local chapter of the Sierra Club opposing the project, though the Club itself has taken no formal position yet.
Rojas described his company as being composed of mostly retirees from LADWP (Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power). He describes himself as “very pro-environment” and says he is flexible in regard to the particulars of the Owens Valley Project.
It’s not about a certain location, he says, noting that Premium Energy will also be filing applications for preliminary permits to study White Mountain locations as well.
“The idea is to have something in the mountains and something in the valleys,” he said, because, “We have to keep the lights on at night, and the choice is between fossil fuel generation or hydro generation.”
The City of Los Angeles has a green mandate that by 2030, it will use 100% renewable power – no fossil fuels.
“Everyone wants to use batteries,” he says, to store solar power for example, “but batteries won’t do the job.” Pumped storage, says Rojas, is the only way to provide thousands of megawatts.
The limitation of batteries, he explains, is that they die after 8 to 10 years. A hydro pump, by comparison, “will last 100 to 150 years.”
To generate the power for the proposed Owens Valley Project, Rojas says the plan would be to use the utility right-of-way corridor as a massive solar farm.
“We want to bring the project to the table and participate on the engineering side,” he said, partnering with utilities such as LADWP.
LADWP is certainly interested in pumped storage.
As the New York Times reported last July, LADWP has floated a similar project at the venerable Hoover Dam. Estimated price tag: $3 billion.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was quoted in the article as saying, “I think we have to look at this as a once-in-a-century moment. So far it looks really possible. It looks sustainable. And it looks clean.”
When it comes to the Owens Valley Project, Swall Meadows resident Tom Hopkins uses different adjectives.
“In my view, the proposal is ludicrous and [constitutes] a gross violation of federal wilderness.”
Solario arrested- Press Release
On Monday afternoon, April 22, the Bishop Police Department served a search warrant in Mammoth Lakes at the residence of 30-year-old Eugenio Alejandre Solorio Jr.
Solorio is a school teacher at Bishop Elementary. Roughly 8-years prior he was a student teacher and basketball coach in Mammoth Lakes. The investigation began after a 10-year-old recently reported having been molested by Solorio about two-years ago in a Bishop Elementary school classroom.
Solorio was booked into the Inyo County Jail on the following charges: lewd acts with a minor, continuous sexual abuse, and sexual acts with a child under 10.
School officials have placed Solorio on leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, which is on-going.