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Placer’s Middle Fork federal relicensing plans power forward

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Water Agency is moving into the homestretch in its lengthy process to gain a new federal license for its Middle Fork American River hydroelectric project. The Auburn-based agency’s board recently OK’d staff to file the agency’s draft license application. A key document in the licensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it’s on track to be received by the federal commission by the end of the month. The agency’s filing of the final application with the commission should follow in February, after a review and comment period on the draft. Director Mike Lee said Monday that while the relicensing process is lengthy complex and expensive, the agency has kept pace with its goals and is expected to meet its February 2013 timeline. “We’ve set the bar higher for other agencies like the Nevada Irrigation District and been pro-active in our application – we’ve stayed ahead of it,” Lee said. “Everything is on schedule and we’ve had a great staff working on this project.” The Water Agency built the Middle Fork Project in the mid-1960s. It includes two major reservoirs, seven dams, five hydroelectric power plants and 21 miles of tunnels. In an average year, the project produces enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes. The relicensing process, expected to cost more than $30 million, started preliminary work in 2002. As it pursues relicensing, the agency is also conducting a power marketing study to determine who to sell electricity to. The agency has sold its Middle Fork Project power to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. under a 50-year agreement that also expires in 2013. Lee said the agency is moving on that front too, with a possible recommendation for the board by early next year on who the best potential buyer would be. The board authorized staff on Thursday to file the draft license application. At the same meeting, directors approved sending a letter to PG&E and the Nevada Irrigation District expressing concern and seeking more information on their neighboring federal relicensing project. PG&E and the irrigation district are seeking to renew licenses on the intertwined PG&E Drum Spaulding Project and the Nevada Irrigation District Yuba-Bear Project. Einar Maisch, agency director of strategic affairs, told board members Thursday that information from the neighboring projects shows increased flows down the South Yuba River could potentially divert water that might otherwise be available to the water agency and result in shortages to Placer County Water Agency customers. The two agencies will be meeting Sept. 27 and Maisch said he hopes to review the matter at that time.