San Diego authorities approve further study of proposed San Vicente pumped-storage plant

San Vicente Dam

San Diego's City Council voted unanimously to pursue a two-year, $900,000 study of the proposed San Vicente pumped-storage hydropower project last week.

The study will be performed in cooperation with the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) and would involve the construction of a 240- to 500-MW hydroelectric plant using the existing San Vicente Dam and reservoir.

Officials said the two-year study is necessary to not only address concerns about the project's ballooning costs of almost $1 billion, but also to determine an appropriate size, business model and financing strategy.

The plant would help make up for power generation lost after the closure of the 2,200-MW San Onofre nuclear power plant while also supporting SDCWA's Emergency Storage Project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed the preliminary permit holder, SDCWA, to refile to study the plant this past October after having previously denied an application to renew its three-year preliminary permit (No. 12747) for a third time.

FERC ruled in June 2014 that it only issues a third permit to the same applicant if that applicant can show extraordinary circumstances that prevented it from proceeding to file a license. The policy is intended to prevent "site banking" by entities that hold onto a site simply to prevent others from developing it.

San Diego had argued that the project was subjected to extraordinary circumstances: The city of San Diego, which owns the dam, is planning a potable water reuse project that would pipe 15 million gallons a day of treated wastewater back into the reservoir for reuse; and SDCWA was raising the height of San Vicente Dam 117 feet, adding 152,000 acre-feet of water storage capacity. FERC was unconvinced, saying in June it is not extraordinary for the authority to be dealing with multiple projects simultaneously.

On rehearing, SDCWA asked clarification whether it could file for a new, non-successive preliminary permit since public notice of its permit renewal application had been filed nine months earlier and no competing applications have been filed. SDCWA cited a 2006 case in which FERC allowed Mt. Hope Waterpower Project LLC to refile for a downsized 1,000-MW Mt. Hope Pumped-Storage project (No. 12784) in New Jersey after a six-month "cooling off period" in which Mt. Hope had to allow time for competitors, if any, to file.

"We have considered the water authority's request for clarification, and agree that a sufficient amount of time has passed for any other entities interested in pursuing a project at the site to have had an opportunity to file preliminary permit or license applications for the San Vicente project site," FERC said. "For this reason, and because the water authority outlined specific steps it would take under an additional preliminary permit, we will allow the water authority to reapply for a new preliminary permit for the San Vicente project site."

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