SMUD’s Hydro Enviro Report Approved

By Published On: September 26, 2008

A combination federal-state environmental statement on Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s hydroelectric projects was “certified” September 18. The environmental reports cover two controversial projects–the current Upper American River facility and a proposed Iowa Hill project. “This is in no way a commitment to build this project,” said board member Renee Taylor, referring to the Iowa Hill facility. Although it approved the environmental statement, the muni declined to back its $855 million Iowa Hill 400 MW pumped storage project for $1 billion in a compensation fund–primarily for fire related liability. Instead, it decided to stick with its current liability insurance, according to David Hansen, hydro relicensing project manager. That, among other changes, contributed towards a conclusion of a long process of approving a federal Environmental Impact Statement and state Environmental Impact Report. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission okayed the project in March, according to the muni. Although several of a string of public speakers against the project brought up the issue of the difficulty of raising funds for the Iowa Hill project in the current credit market, SMUD board members did not discuss that potential setback. Opposition to the project primarily centered on environmental issues. There was also an emotional undercurrent. One witness called SMUD an “occupying force.” Several called for decoupling the existing American River facility from the proposed Iowa Hill project in order to create a focus. Several public speakers also advocated decoupling the ongoing American River project from the unbuilt Iowa Hill project environmental analysis. SMUD staff, however, said that the two should remain together in the environmental reports. Otherwise, said staff, the muni would have to start all over at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “I haven’t decided whether to build the Iowa Hill project, but the [environmental] document meets the standard,” said board member Bill Slaton. In other SMUD news, the muni is involved with building Habitat for Humanity homes that are expected to be energy efficient. Turning policy into plaster, the board may consider helping out a multi-home Habitat project that could be “LEED” certified–the “leadership in energy and environmental design.” SMUD employees recently helped build a Habitat house in its district.

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