PG&E Plans to Auction off the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project

Scott Dam which is part of the Potter Valley Project.

Scott Dam which is part of the Potter Valley Project. [Photo cropped by one from PG&E]

PG&E has decided to put the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project, the dam that diverts water from the Eel River and gives it to the Russian River, up for auction.

They sent the following letter to  the Eel and Russian River Commissioners :

Dear Eel-Russian River Commissioners:

During my February 23, 2018 presentation to the Eel-Russian River Commission, I informed you that Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was evaluating several options for the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project. I’m writing to let you know that after very careful consideration, PG&E has decided to put the project up for auction this fall.

This decision to begin the auction process ultimately reflects that continuing to operate the facility is not in the long-term best interests of PG&E’s electric customers. However, PG&E fully realizes that the project has key environmental attributes and provides important regional benefits including recreation opportunities and a significant contribution to the Russian River water supply.

With this in mind, as we prepare for the auction PG&E is open to exploring with local, county and/or state governmental entities that have an interest in the continued operation of the project the possibility of transferring it to a local or regional entity as an alternative to the auction. PG&E will assess the progress of such transfer negotiations as they proceed, and based on meaningful progress, will either continue direct negotiations or proceed with the auction.

Participation in the auction will be open to any qualified entity. Qualifications will include being able to meet the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) requirements for a hydroelectric project licensee. We anticipate interest in acquiring the project by electric power interests, water supply interests, potential combinations of these two groups and possibly by others. Transfer of the project will require approval of both the FERC and the California Public Utilities Commission. The entire process could take one-and-a-half to two years to complete.
PG&E plans to continue the ongoing FERC relicensing proceeding throughout the auction process with the expectation that the new project owner will “step into PG&E’s shoes” relative to the relicensing once regulatory approval of project transfer has been obtained.

Due to its relatively small electric generation capacity, divesting the Potter Valley Project will not impact PG&E’s delivery of safe, clean, affordable and reliable electricity to our customers. The divesture is expected to have a negligible impact on PG&E’s overall portfolio of renewable power.

Throughout the divestiture process, PG&E will continue to operate the Potter Valley Project as a hydroelectric facility in full compliance with our FERC license and all applicable environmental laws and regulations.
Best regards,
David Moller
Director, Power Generation

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44 comments

  • I’m in 100$?

    • Hopefully, an environmental organization will crowdfund this.

    • Ok, so here is great time for everyone who normally bags on cannabis growers, for alledgedly using up all the eel river water, to step up and show that you aren’t just biased haters. If all cannabis growers are forced into forbearance how about grape growers, how about cattle ranchers, how bout lawn growers, or are you all just biased haters?

  • Mendocino Mamma

    One good sized earthquake it is done. Potter Valley Water District will buy it I am certain. If they do not have that water all the crops in Potter Valley will not be able to exist.

    • Concerned citizen

      Not just potter valley. They only keep a drop along it’s way to lake mendo, ukiah valley farmers, hoppland farmers, Cloverdale farmers, Alexander valley farmers and so on. I would guess it will be someone in sanoma who will step up.

  • Twinkle Winklestein

    That water flows, naturally, to Humboldt Co., and belongs in the once mighty, Eel river! Sounds like PG$E is planning to sell out to Sonoma, or big Santa Rosa money, (wine grapes). As, water IS the new gold. Fish need habitat to thrive. Water is the key to everything, so let’s keep it clear, cool and clean.

  • Veterans friend

    Better investment than the MATEEL
    OR the hospital😁

  • Does anyone know what chance, if any, there is that relicensing might be denied? Is it really just a formality sure to be approved?

  • unbridled philistine

    I wish the natives would purchase it and restore the lost Salmon grounds.. Can they afford it? Most likely crazy amount money.

  • OK since PG&E is bailing and refusing to do the right thing, it’s monkeywrench time! Save the Eel!

  • Aside from water diversion and electricity, does the dam have any positive impact on preventing/controlling flooding downstream?

    • Mendocino Mamma

      Not really. A failure would be significantly more catastrophic.

    • Not really given that such a small portion of the basin is upstream of the dams. Something like 10%

      • Life time local

        I think some agreement that might include proper water releases in the summer to the Eel to promote everything from fish survival to tourism should be explored. Apparently Humboldt needs to buy its own water back in order to get to have any of it.

    • Veterans friend

      ABSOLUTELY ZERO FLOOD CONTROL

  • Im with ya scooter!!!!
    Lets get rid of that place once and for all!!!
    Where the gofundme for this??? Anyone know jeff bezos or some other rich guy who’d love to f*ck with the powers that corporately be?

    Anyone complaining about gardens using up all the eel water, here’s your chance to get rid of the real culprit!!!
    Over 70% of the eel gets diverted there to grow grapes. Sorry russian river folks youve stolen our water abd tax revenue long enough!!!
    Now that we have a legal ag crop that will be generating state taxes we actually have a foot to stand on in a legal battle.
    The eel is a friggin amaxing river that drew large amounts of people back in the day, especially to benbow. Check out their historic pics next time youre in the area.
    Maybe we need to contact our reps and potential future governors and ask them if they’d help get rid of this plant. It is an election year after all. If four big pot companies can donate a bunch to Gavin Newsome and get the size limits for pot farms rule erased, we should be able to get something done. From what I’ve heard it was 123,000$ donation from each of those companies, pretty cheap for buying a politician these days.

    • I don’t get why people are so misinformed about the eel diversions. First of all benbow is on the south fork which has no dam and only local small diversions. Secondly the main stem is diverted but they are mandated to keep natural flows in the eel during dry months. So the water that is diverted in the dry season is stored winter (or spring) water. I want the dams gone for fish habitat but it would not add any water to the eel during the dry months.

      • Life time local

        It would add water to the Eel during the times when Salmon come up the Eel to spawn though. I know in the past during summer months there has been talk of water releases that should come down the eel that do not get released. If there is a huge dam and they can flood the Russian with water they could do realeases more often. Wouldn’t it be cool if the eel got releases like other rivers with huge dams on them do…. and you could go rafting in the summer…. and more fish survived.
        but on another note how feasible is removal…. I’ve heard talk of murcury deposits behind the dams but I don’t know the truth of that.

        • Right. If we could get the rights to the water it sure could be used that way. Another example is Ruth lake and the mad river, where the fish benefit from the above natural summer flows. And I love rafting the eel and doing it in the summer would be amazing. I am conflicted, however, about the idea because the eel is so close to natural and the fish are so close to truly wild that It would be a shame to alter the ecology of it so much. There are so few natural rivers left in California that I’d rather get rid of the dams and learn to love the river even with its crappy warm water in the summer

        • And actually I don’t think removing the dams would add water during low flow salmon migration, but like you said we could artificially provide them with extra water by keeping the dams and somehow acquiring the water rights

  • Does whoever buys it get to decide how water is allocated?

  • Wouldn’t it be grand if folks were always there to protect the river?

    You just can’t shit in the river if you are a corporation around here.

    Throw a reggae concert on the south fork during lowest flows of the season and it’s all good.

    What a bunch of horse shit.

  • Garberville Vagrant Dingleberry Underpants

    It belongs to the people, we paid for research and development then for the power we paid for. Time to stop the bullshit make believe. Tens of thousands should go down and kick someone in the face while taking back power. Oh but your busy doing shitfuck nothing. Ok then. Forget about it.

    • Illegal in California to deny water to homeless class,handicapped.use Ada demand letters,like shingleton style.stand up to discrimination against handicapped for not giving ssi to landlord .finance me thus.

  • Garberville Vagrant Dingleberry Underpants

    As a matter of fact these motherfuckers have been stealing our,water for decades! That water supposed to flow north! Who is the responsible one that should be locked up for this legal theft? [edit]

  • Let me guess. The dam needs a lot of work and restoration. $$$. They want to download it onto the taxpayers.

  • Humboldt Original

    Just like the Klamath River dams, these Eel River dams must be removed immediately to restore the ecosystem and bring the salmon home to spawn once again. By restoring the Eel River’s salmon, we will all be witness to the return of immmse ecological and economic riches. Bring the salmon home.

    Thank you PG&E for recognizing your perilous path and offering to get out of the way. The salmon and your ratepayers will thank you many times over.

    Congressman Huffman, please be consistent. Just as you have championed the removal of the Klamath River dams, please step up and find a path to remove the Eel River dams. Please be consistent, or at least admit the hypocrisy of advocating for dam removal outside of your district in rural Republican farmland, while simultaneously advocating for salmon killing dams that benefit urban elites and winegrowers in your own Democratic district. Are you for real? Bring the salmon home.

    And finally, Humboldt County leaders, get it together already to be strong advocates for Eel River salmon restoration. The time to act is now. We cannot sit this one out while Sonoma County sprawl and wine growers steal our water. Humboldt County must take control of the Eel River dams, destroy them, keep the water in basin, AND… Bring the Salmon Home!!!

    • No way in Hell Huffman will step in and work to remove Eel River dams. Marin/Sonoma Counties keep him elected.

      Wake up Humboldt County. The deck is stacked against you and there is no level playing field.

      The Indians (excuse me; native americans) might be your best bet.

  • Ugly pond.buy it with pot money for me to grow haemotococcus pluvialis,favorite food,and navigation aid,of salmon.astaxanthin.fortunatoarriza.

  • When Potter Valley was evacuated during last year’s fire, the threat was not the fire but the chance that the diversion tunnel, made of redwood, would catch fire and flood the entire valley floor.
    The fire crews in training this last winter were told this by the CalFire trainers. This surprised us all, and I believe the potential liability of the diversion’s failure played into PG&E’s decision.
    If so, who would accept that liability and buy it?
    I know how much money is at stake with the potential failure, and I doubt even Warren Buffet’s ability to absorb the loss.
    It’s the water, not the power, which will decide this issue; the water is gold.

    • barefoot charley

      Yes, PG&E’s power plant generates far more valuable water than electricity, and they know it as well as anyone. It’s been their headache for long enough. The diverted water goes as far down Huffman’s district as Novato in Marin. It makes the Russian a year-round river for rafters in Guerneville, wine monsters in Alexander Valley, farmers in Potter Valley, schemers in the Sonoma County Water Agency, kitchens in Santa Rosa–no way on God’s green earth that water will be returned to where it was captured a century ago. The only question is whether the project’s administrators (Supervisors from the watered counties and Humboldt) will create a new authority to own it, or let the Sonoma County Water Agency run it outright. The best thing for our fish is to keep pressing for more ‘natural’ flow releases. Realistically it’s all we can do.

      And thanks for the info on tunnel liability! That explains why project supervisors seemed to lean towards creating a new agency to manage it: liability would be limited to one little cog of the mighty machine processing our water.

  • PGE wil make an incredible amount of money on this. Then we can have a windfall profits tax and not pay for power for ten years……….

  • RR construction had a largely unknown but very significant impact on the river.
    As Ray Mathison shared in “The History of Alderpoint”.
    This is his words,
    “As they started building the railway along the Eel River all the rocks and ruble were pushed over the bank, this was the beginning of the destruction of the river. This also as the beginning of the end of the Big Salmon Runs on the Eel.
    By the time the railroad was completed in 1914 a tremendous amount of material had been pushed into the Eel River. As the railroad was being built along the Eel River canyon many very large landslides started happening. The debris from these were also shoved into the river.
    Then they blew out the falls near Kikawaka slide. This, over a period of years, let a lot of mountain slide into the river.
    Most of this material was put into the Eel River in the wintertime when the river was high. It then got carried down river where it was deposited into the Eel River slowly choking the flow of water. It was not to many years after that before the ships could no longer run up river as far as Scotia.
    In 1921 Scott’s damn was completed, it was found that the dam was able to help mitigate the flow of water helping to regulate the the flow a already stressed river.
    All of this then a few dry years in the early thirties caused the big salmon to congregate in the lower part of the Eel River. There were so many of them and with the water being so low, they ran out of oxygen and died by the thousands….”
    Mr. Mathieson describes how when he moved back to Alderpoint in 1940, the largest salmon were gone. Fall runs still brought a salmon run but no more of the six-footers.

    Fall rains came later and later, and now the railroad had bulldozers shoving material over the banks even faster filling in a lot of the big waterholes, particularly in the lowest part of the river.

    Despite warnings about the RR being placed below the historic flood levels of 1885, 1909, and 1935, RR equipment was left on the tracks. Then the floods of 1955 and 1964 came and did a tremendous amount of damage.
    Mr. Mathierson recounts, “After the 1964 flood when they rebuilt the RR they blew up most of the big rocks that where in the river (I’ll never understand why) completely ruining most of the fishing holes.
    The holes that are left have been filled to where they are only about 1/3 of the original size.” (as of 1998) “I have a picture of one of these holes taken in 1913; it had three big rocks. Now it has no big rocks and is completely in ruins. This was a hole where salmon and steelhead used to school up and rest before going on up the river”. He goes on to report casual use of bulldozers by unsupervised RR workers and a look the other way attitude by Fish and Game men” I asked the Fish and Game men in 1975 why they allowed this river to be destroyed, they claimed to know nothing about it, and I told them they surely did know. That ended the conversation.”

    article from the Humboldt Times 1910, report an immense blast that was part of the construction of the RR line to the east of Holmes with the subtitle “Hundreds of Tons of Earth Thrown into Eel River”.

    September of 1888 Jeremiah Curtin,

    while traveling south from Blocksburg passed through a fire in progress: “Leaving the fire region early in the morning, we reached Eel river at midday. It was hot in the ravine, and the water, covered with green slime looked so unwholesome that I decided to climb the mountain straight ahead of us.”

  • FYI, The Eel-Russian River Commission meets again on Friday, June 1, at 10 a.m. in Ukiah, at the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors Chambers on Low Gap Road in Ukiah. Meetings are open to the public. If you’ve got the time and don’t mind the drive, come and hear for yourself! Public input is taken. It would be helpful to have more people from the Eel watershed, especially from parts downstream, speak in support of … well, you know.

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