Owens Valley

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Owens Valley

Date: 07/18/2019     State: CA     Issue: Wild Lands     Partners: Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Inyo, Sierra Club


Flights over a pump storage proposal in the Owens Valley, CA with LA Times, Center for Biological Diversity, Mono County Commissioner generated media and educated local elected officials on opposition to the projects because of its impacts to wildlands.

A company called Premium Energy Holdings filed applications with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for two pumped storage projects in Eastern California: Haiwee and Owens Valley. Pumped storage uses water reservoirs to create giant "batteries" by pumping water to an upper reservoir when energy is cheap and abundant, and then releasing it through a power plant turbine when energy is needed and prices are higher. The company claims these proposals "could" support renewable energy integration into the grid. However, nothing in the FERC permits they are seeking would require limits to ensure that only renewable energy is used to pump water uphill.

Furthermore, while energy storage is certainly needed to support additional renewable energy on the grid, that storage can be better achieved closer to energy end-use and without destroying fragile ecosystems at a landscape scale.

The Owens Valley project originally proposed upper reservoirs on top of Wheeler Ridge in the John Muir Wilderness and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep critical habitat. The proposal was then amended to place the upper reservoirs in the White Mountains up Gunter and Silver Canyons in sage grouse and desert bighorn habitat. FERC denied this application on the grounds that it was three projects in one. The company then filed a revised application for a single project and changed the location of two of the upper reservoir "alternatives" to the eastern slope of the White Mountains in Wyman and Birch Creek Canyons-each of which contain largely undisturbed habitat for rare and imperiled species including sage grouse and Panamint alligator lizard.

Just days before our Ecoflight, the company again amended the project, proposing to use the existing Crowley Lake as an upper reservoir "alternative" with the power plant being constructed underground in the Owens River Gorge. Under this current proposal the lower reservoir would also be constructed downstream in the Gorge. This new alternative risks destruction of the majority of the endangered Owens tui chub critical habitat and could undermine popular recreational boating and fishing on the lake, as well as angling and world-class rock climbing sites in the Gorge.

Our conservation partners at Center for Biological Diversity are working to stop the siting of large industrial-scale projects like this one in sensitive landscapes and habitat for endangered species that should be protected.

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