Local history of hydropower
There has been hydroelectric generation on the Kaweah River for more than a century. Yet most residents and Three Rivers visitors rarely connect the dots to understand how the system works — there are three powerhouses in Three Rivers, miles of flumes, three forebays, and six dams (located in Sequoia National Park). These components make up an intricate system that produces enough clean energy to annually power thousands of homes and businesses.
The Kaweah system’s operation is something that consumers take for granted, kind of like flipping the switch and expecting a light to turn on. In today’s energy climate, the production of clean, sustainable energy is extremely important, even more so than in 1917 when Southern California Edison succeeded the Mt. Whitney Power Company and took over the facilities and began Kaweah operations.
Since the 1970s, the Kaweah system and all public utilities have been subject to rigorous state and federal regulations under the terms of licenses and special use permits. The process has become more complex each time a license or permit expires and is renewed.
And although the Kaweah license does not expire until December 31, 2021, on Tuesday, June 9, the Edison company conducted the first in a series of meetings with project staff and stakeholders. The Visalia meeting served as a briefing on the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) process and the timetable for submitting the relicensing application.
Ed Bianchi, a consultant hired to assemble the application, gave an overview on relicensing and why SCE is taking a proactive approach.
“Issues are issues, and it’s really about relationships and being open and transparent,” Bianchi said. “We want to come up with conditions that work so issues can be resolved.”
Stakeholders also include several Three Rivers residents who have the right to use flume water. Four shareholders, who own Three Rivers property, attended the inaugural meeting.
Bianchi identified the protection of environmental resources and ensuring water flow as critical issues to be addressed. Brionna Drescher, an environmental scientist, attended on behalf of the State Water Resources Control Board.
A resource specialist from Sequoia National Park also attended.
Jim Kennard, SCE’s general manager who oversees the day-to-day operations of the Kaweah system, said the Kaweah River is in much better shape this year than the nearby Tule River. The water flow remains sufficient in the Kaweah River for power generation while the Tule system is not currently operating.
The company’s approach in the project, Bianchi said, is to facilitate up-front collaboration and complete some actual studies in the pre-application documents. That multi-volume report is due to be submitted at the end of 2016.
The last relicensing application was completed in 1992 and consisted of 26,000 pages dealing with the same system components that are outside the boundaries of Sequoia National Park.
The Kaweah system
No generating of power occurs inside the boundaries of the national park although sections of flume and four check dams at Mineral King (Franklin, Upper Monarch, Crystal, Eagle) and two diversion dams (Middle Fork, Marble Fork) are extant within park boundaries.
Facilities within Sequoia National Park are not covered under the FERC relicensing application, only those facilities on SCE or BLM land.
The system components inside Sequoia National Park are regulated under the terms and conditions of a special use permit that expires in 2016.
An SCE spokesperson said that the utility is seeking a 10-year extension of that special use permit to ensure that the hydroelectric generating system can continue operations.