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Placer's water, power concerns voiced in D.C.

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The Placer County Water Agency is making its case in Congress for treating hydroelectric power from its Middle Fork Project as greener energy than it is now. A local water official told a congressional committee in Washington, D.C. that agencies like Placer County Water are losing capacity to produce clean, renewable hydroelectric energy because of an unfairly balanced permitting process. At the same time, the nation is trying to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production by means that include hydropower, water agency Director of Strategic Affairs Einar Maisch told the House of Representatives? Natural Resources Committee. Maisch reported Thursday to the agency Board of Directors after his testimony June 27 at a hearing on ?Mandatory Conditioning Requirements on Hydropower: How Federal Resource Agencies are Driving Up Electricity Costs and Decreasing the Original Green Energy.? Maisch told the committee that an average of 8 to 10 percent of hydroelectric generation capacity is being lost by local agencies across the nation as they go through the federal relicensing process. The losses are often due to mandatory conditioning authority exercised by select federal and state resource agencies, Maisch said. That authority can require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue new licenses that redirect water away from generation to enhance environmental conditions for species under those resource agencies? jurisdictions, he said. The agency has spent $37 million to date in efforts to obtain a new federal license to operate the Middle Fork Project, Maisch said. The agency built the project between 1963 and 1967 with the proceeds from a $140 million local bond issue passed by the voters of Placer County. ?We began our scientific studies five years early and we?ve done seven years of collaborative work to demonstrate the health of the Middle Fork American River watershed,? Maisch said. ?The result is we only anticipate a 5 percent loss in energy production.? Additionally, under new terms and conditions, the agency expects to spend $20 million in capital improvements, $2.4 million a year in additional operational costs and another $1 million annually in direct cash payments to resource agencies, he said. ?Under the current regulatory framework, this is what success looks like,? Maisch said. The difficulties are in the law, Maisch said. ?The problem lies in the structure of the current process, where individual state and federal resource agencies with narrow charters mandate costly conditions which cannot be balanced against other national environmental priorities,? he said. Resource agencies aren?t being directly blamed, Maisch said. ?They are simply carrying out their narrowly focused mission to protect resources under their separate jurisdictions,? Maisch said. ?The problem is that no one is empowered to balance competing interests.? Congress should be encouraged to revise and streamline federal licensing regulations and provide the energy commission with greater authority to balance resource needs and electric generation value, Maisch said. ?It?s a problem that needs to be solved and we?ve been offered an opportunity to help develop that legislation,? Maisch said.