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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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1/29/2012 10:09:00 PM
Big Chino hydroelectric project draws groundswell of interest
Courier file photoAn irrigation well sits in the midst of the Chino Grande Ranch about 40 miles north-northwest of Prescott.
Courier file photo
An irrigation well sits in the midst of the Chino Grande Ranch about 40 miles north-northwest of Prescott.
Arizona will need more power, eventually
While Arizona's major power companies don't see the need for extra electricity sources in the near future, they anticipate that need will return with improvements to the economy.

Arizona Public Service, the largest supplier in the state, expects it will need another 6,000 megawatts within 15 years, said Jim Wilde, director of resource planning. That includes 4,000 MW of new needs and 2,000 MW of replacement needs.

The owners of the Chino Grande Ranch in northern Yavapai County want to study the feasibility of building Arizona's first closed-loop pumped hydroelectric power facility. They are seeking a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permit to study the concept. They've named the proposed 2,000-megawatt facility the Longview Energy Exchange Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project.

That's enough power to light up 500,000 homes in the Valley of the Sun, said officials at Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project, the largest suppliers of power in the state.

In comparison, the Navajo Generating Station near Page produces 2,250 MW, and it's one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country.

The Chino Grande facility would pump water from a reservoir up 1,400 feet to two other reservoirs during the night, when electricity prices are low, then release it during peak electricity demand when prices are higher. The concept is about a century old, said Roger Baker, principal engineer in SRP's hydro-engineering department.

Since they need electricity to get the water uphill, such facilities generally have about an 80 percent round-trip efficiency rate, Baker said.

SRP has several smaller pumped hydroelectric facilities on the Salt River and valley canals that use surface water from the Salt and Colorado to help meet customers' peak summer day demands. It also buys peaking resources from larger dams on the Colorado River.

APS also uses turbines powered by natural gas for its peak demand needs, since they also power up quickly.

Natural gas supplies are abundant so prices are good right now, and solar is becoming competitive, Wilde said.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is requiring power companies to get 15 percent of their supplies from renewable resources by 2025, and the closed-loop hydro facility might qualify.

The Chino Grande facility would need to build electricity lines to connect to APS or Western Area Power Administration lines.

While FERC requires companies to provide access to their lines, it can be cost prohibitive or the lines could already be at full capacity, Wilde said. APS and other companies consider current use confidential proprietary information.

When asked if APS agrees with a statement by former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes that the Longview facility could have prevented a huge blackout in southern California last fall, APS spokesman Damon Gross said that incident is still being analyzed.

- Joanna Dodder Nellans

Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

A new proposal to use Big Chino groundwater for a huge hydroelectric facility has drawn a lot of interest from local officials involved in water issues, not surprisingly.

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig said he's talked to at least a dozen people across the country involved in water and energy issues, and the phrase for their initial reaction would be "cautious optimism.

"All these people are trying to figure out what this means to them," he said.

In their application for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the project, the owners of the huge Chino Grande Ranch in northern Yavapai County propose to use 17,500 acre-feet of Big Chino Aquifer groundwater to fill the reservoirs.

Von Gausig and other local officials estimate the annual evaporation rate in the reservoirs would be about 1,100 to 1,260 acre-feet. Project owners said they haven't calculated that yet.

Some including Von Gausig are hoping the project will study the possibility of using rainwater catchment facilities instead of Big Chino groundwater.

It's important to limit the project's impacts on the Upper Verde River, Von Gausig said.

"The devil's very much in the details right now," he said.

Scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies at least 80 percent of the baseflow of the Upper Verde River, which is home to endangered species and was recently branded one of the country's most endangered rivers.

That issue, alongside concerns about existing surface water rights, has drawn a lot of interest to the project.

Prescott already secured the state right to pump about 8,000 acre-feet of groundwater annually from a neighboring Big Chino ranch to supplement its Little Chino Aquifer supplies. Prescott Valley joined the Prescott pipeline proposal, and Chino Valley also wants to use Big Chino water.

"Any additional pumping stresses you put on the aquifer, you wonder what it might do," said Leslie Graser, Prescott's water resources manager.

She and Prescott Valley Water Resources Manager John Munderloh noted that the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) already concluded that there was enough Big Chino groundwater for both Prescott's needs and Chino Grande's past proposal to use 18,500 acre-feet annually for a subdivision with more than 6,000 homes. ADWR doesn't look at surface water impacts during such reviews.

The hydroelectric facility wouldn't need ADWR approval, said Andrew Craddock, ADWR manager of recharge and Assured Water Supply programs. However, it would need other government approvals.

If the hydroelectric facility owners want to use groundwater, Von Gausig and Dan Campbell of The Nature Conservancy said they would want to see a mitigation plan. So far Prescott hasn't produced one for its project, and closed-door negotiations with the Salt River Project have been occurring for more than a year. SRP owns some senior water rights on the Verde River.

"When you look at the amount of pumping that could occur, it clearly will express itself as a diminishment in the Verde River over time," Campbell said of the new project.

A conservation easement on the rest of the ranch would help, Campbell said. The 50,000-acre ranch includes 28,500 acres of private land mixed in a checkerboard fashion with state trust land sections.

"That's a lot of land," Von Gausig said. "If they can preserve it as almost anything but homes, it's going to be better" for the river as well as wildlife such as pronghorn.

The owners closed the ranch to public hunting last year, prompting the Arizona Game and Fish Department to close off all hunting in the game management unit so private hunting couldn't occur on the ranch, either.

Bob Posey, regional supervisor for Game and Fish, said the two sides are negotiating and it's likely that a limited number of pronghorn antelope hunters will be allowed on the ranch this year, maybe five of 20 tags in Unit 19B. The agency issued 65 tags in the past.

Von Gausig said he's heard at least two things so far that give him hope about the hydroelectric project.

"What I like about this is...they've come out to you right at the very beginning," said Von Gausig, referring to the fact that the project representatives contacted The Daily Courier about their FERC application. That's an indication of good faith, he said.

He also likes the fact that they hired Kris Mayes, who served seven years on the Arizona Corporation Commission before she ran out of time under the state's term limit law in 2010, as a consultant. She grew up in Prescott.

"I just have to imagine Kris would do the right thing," he said.



Related Stories:
• Editorial: Water may short-circuit hydroelectric plant plans
• Hydroelectric plan draws scrutiny; government agencies, tribe express concerns
• Letter: Hydroelectric idea not economically sound
• Letter: Hydroelectric proposal not sound by any means
• Letter: Hydroelectric idea is all wet
• Proposed hydroelectric plant near Seligman would use Big Chino groundwater


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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Article comment by: @ be logical

Could you please tell what you want a "viable alternative" to, or a "better solution" for.

Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Article comment by: Be Logical

I know that it is important to look at every aspect of this proposal, in fact essential.
Like so many comments however, they are negative without a viable alternative.
Many would like to see nothing done at all. That isn't exactly "educated" either. Allowing big corporations to come in and use people or the land to make big profits without impact studies is wrong, agreed. Aside from that, anyone have a better solution? Let's hear it.


Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Steele

Water is "blue gold" as my friend Roger in Paulden says. Some of the facts of law are at issue in Arizona. The fact surface water is legally different than ground water must be resolved. We all know that pumping has created dry rivers elsewhere and no doubt in Arizona as well. So this hydro power project will initially require 18, 500 acre feet of water and that is enough for about 52,500 homes on an annual basis. Prescott and Prescott Valley already have permission for 8,000 acre feet enough for about 24,000 homes and Chino Valley says it wants 18,500 a/f for 6,000 homes? Somebody is lying in Chino Valley. At any rate, ALL this water will come out of the current available water for wild life and current residents. Mother Nature is not going to increase her water delivery just for our needs in these projects. Bottom line, I certainty hope our public officials will look out for the current users and the riparian areas before moving forward on "new" demands for our "blue gold".

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: Win Hjalmarson

Just another hair-brained idea of the owners of Chino Grande Ranch. Thanks to our nutty legislature and A.R.S. § 45-555, the good citizens of Yavapai County are exposed to such silliness in this newspaper.


Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: Further Proof

Sorry to say but this idea provides further proof of the failing education system in Arizona.

Closed loop hydro electric systems run at a net loss to the power grid. It’s only a money game. You pump it up the mountain at off peak expense then sell it back during on peak demand. This of course doesn’t take into account all the cost and maintenance of actually building and running it. Can anyone say Stimulus Money?

In simple terms that even our highly educated elected officials “might” be able to grasp. If this is such a brilliant idea then we should all have a swimming pool on the roof of our houses.


Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: Flywheel Frank

If energy storage is the goal, then they need to do something other than use water. This is the DESERT, get realistic!

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: P.O.'d In Paulden

""I just have to imagine Kris would do the right thing," he said." For who, her wealthy friends, the Verde river, or those of us with homes and wells that use the Big Chino aquifer ? Just leave the water alone !


Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: Hats off to the HEADLINE editor!

Great use of the term "groundswell."

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012
Article comment by: the big question is

Doesn't SRP still have any and all rights to surface water? It seems like that was the reason the Lakes in Paulden created by developers back in the 1960's had to be drained.



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