PG&E Says it May Sell or Abandon the Potter Valley Project Which Dams the Eel River
Moller would not say when PG&E will decide the PVP’s fate other than they will do so “within a couple of months.” Moller also would not say if PG&E is already in negotiations with an interested buyer.
Moller explained that demand for power from PG&E is down, but did not say by what percentage. He placed the Potter Valley Project’s nine megawatts of potential generation in the context of PG&E’s total production statistics. PG&E provides power to about 16 million people, and Potter Valley’s potential generation is a minuscule portion of this. It only generates enough power for three to five thousand people.
Moller said that as demand for power from PG&E declines, the company is uncertain that the Potter Valley Project is a project it wants to continue to operate.
However, Moller speculated that other, unnamed, entities may view the project differently. He was vague and refused to be more specific when questioned by Commissioner Jim Steele of Lake County.
During his formal remarks to the Commission, Moller mentioned the importance of the water transfer to the region multiple times. Sonoma County Supervisor Jim Gore spoke of the water rights that have developed over the century of the water transfer’s existence.
Mendocino County Farm Bureau’s Devon Jones sounded like she might be near tears as she reminded Commissioners of farmers’ reliance on this water source for their livelihood.
Potter Valley resident Guinness McFadden reminded the room that the Potter Valley Project represented a decentralized source of power production that benefits the system.
Friends of the Eel River’s Director Stephanie Tidwell said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process has not adequately allowed for the study of the dam decommissioning option. And she reminded Commissioner Fennell that Humboldt County gets no benefits from the water transfer.
Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel’s Conservation Director, said decommissioning would be “smart” given the environmental costs and constraints of NEPA and CEQA for the relicensing of this project. Greacen also explained that the reservoir causes a “methylmercury nightmare” as the naturally occurring mercury in the ground has become methylated in the anaerobic conditions under the reservoir and has concentrated in the food chain.
And Greacen brought up the issue of dam safety in the context of the two-hundred-year-old structures in a geologically unstable region.
Vivian Helliwell of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA) described the role of the Eel River fishery as a “leading indicator” of the health of the river and the success of mitigation efforts so far.
Immediately after Moller’s PG&E agenda item, the Commission took up the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) discussion. The JPA organizes Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma Counties into the Eel-Russian River Commission and gives it authority to govern the interbasin hydro-electric project. Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell chairs the Commission at this time. She had clearly read and re-read the JPA in recent weeks. Fennel noted that the JPA has, until now, left PG&E to govern itself.
The Commission examined the JPA document closely and determined there is room to include more voices in the Commission including those of Tribes, cities, and smaller districts impacted by the dam and diversion. Mark Wheetley, Fortuna’s City Manager was present to express Fortuna’s interest in being involved in the future of the Potter Valley Project. Michelle Vassel Tribal Administrator of the Wyott Tribe also informed the Commission of the Tribe’s interest to participate in all conversations moving forward.
In reading the JPA, Commissioners noted that though the Commission cannot impose taxes to raise revenue, it can own property. The Eel Russian River Commission members seemed to dream of operating the Potter Valley Project in PG&E’s absence but does not have the financial means to carry it. And, Commissioner Carre Brown noted the liability issues involved in the dam and the diversion.
After the meeting, Commissioner Estelle Fennell reiterated her statement made during the Commission meeting that Humboldt County residents have always expressed a desire for the Eel River to return home. Fennell notes that the region must work together to strengthen the Russian River residents’ ability to meet water needs that have grown up around the diversion’s water supply. However, Fennell said, “Now we can talk about the issues and their solutions.”