Lengthy process to relicense; Bucks hydro gets underway

This map shows the area and powerhouses involved in the Bucks Creek relicensing process that just began, as well as the Lake Almanor relicensing project often simply referred to as 2105, which has been underway for more than a decade. In both instances Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is seeking to renew its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate hydroelectric facilities. Click on map for larger view.
Map courtesy Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Debra Moore

  By law it will take a minimum of five years to relicense the Bucks Creek hydroelectric system and the clock doesn’t even start ticking until Dec. 31, 2013.

  Bucks Creek Hydroelectric Project, FERC No. 619, includes the reservoirs at Three Lakes, Bucks Lake, Lower Bucks Lake and Grizzly Forebay, as well as the Grizzly and Bucks Creek powerhouses.

  Pacific Gas and Electric Co. holds the license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the system, but it expires Dec. 31, 2018. A new license application must be filed by Dec. 31, 2016, but to start the process, a notice of intent and pre-application document must be submitted no later than Dec. 31 of this year.

  That filing will kick off a five-year process:

  Year 1: study plan completed.

  Years 2 – 3: studies completed.

  Years 4 – 5: state and federal entities complete the environmental reviews.

  Year 5-plus: license issued with new conditions.

  The process is similar to that which has been underway for Lake Almanor 2105.

  The trio of meetings held in mid-April — two in Quincy and one in Sacramento — kicked off the process.

  Alan Soneda, PG&E’s project manager, presented an overview of the project’s scope and timeline in Quincy on April 16 and in Sacramento on April 18.

  Two consultants and a handful of other PG&E officials joined Soneda in the presentation and answered questions.

  County officials, including Supervisors Lori Simpson and Kevin Goss, and Planning Director Randy Wilson, attended the first presentation. Bucks Lake homeowners were also present.

  FERC issues licenses that span decades and Soneda said it is likely that PG&E will seek a 30-year license to operate this hydroelectric system.

  Soneda explained that the goal is to “balance power values with non-power issues.”

  In operating the system, PG&E wants it to be “reliable, safe, affordable and achieve sound environmental stewardship,” he said. “We seek collaborative solutions that achieve a sustainable balance.”

  Soneda said that PG&E is trying to identify as many issues as possible, by circulating questionnaires to interested parties, interviewing resource agency personnel and researching agency files.

  “We want to cast a broad net,” he said.

  PG&E will look at prior studies that have been conducted.

  FERC requires several areas to be studied including geology, tribal resources, recreation, cultural and socio-economic issues, endangered species, wetlands, wildlife, fish and water.

  When asked to compare the Bucks and Lake Almanor relicensing projects, Soneda said that the process of gathering information and filling gaps will be the same, but the facts will be different.

  “We will design studies based on those facts,” he said.

  Bucks Lake homeowners seemed most concerned with maintaining the lake level.

  After a bit of discussion, Planning Director Wilson asked, “But PG&E could ask to raise the lake level?”

  “Yes,” Soneda responded. “But I don’t know of any plans. I wouldn’t expect any changes.”

  Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who has been working on the Almanor 2105 relicensing since 2002, asked why the projects aren’t considered at the same time since they are interrelated to some degree.

  Soneda said that aspects of the other licenses are considered, but their timeframes are different. The Almanor license actually expired in 2004 and the relicensing is still in process.

  To read more about this process, visit the FERC website at and go to elibrary. Select search dockets and enter P-619.

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