In California, Power Is in Shorter Supply After Oroville Spillway Collapse

by | Feb 16, 2017

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As California officials rush to repair a huge sinkhole in the emergency spillway at the Oroville dam, the Hyatt Powerplant –  an 819-MW hydropower plant located in the bedrock beneath the dam – remains shut until authorities judge it is safe to come back online.

And with that amount of power lost, the equivalent of two natural gas-fired power plants will need to kick into gear elsewhere in the Golden State to make up for the missing supply, according to a report this week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The boost in gas demand resulting from the shutdown would come just as California’s supplies of the power-plant fuel are constrained. The Aliso Canyon as storage field outside of Los Angeles has been closed since a massive leak in late 2015, Bloomberg noted, and operators are still waiting for permission from the state to restart.

“Gas generation probably needs to pick up the slack from what you lose at the Oroville Dam,” said Het Shah, an energy analyst at BNEF. “You need two gas facilities to fill in that gap.”

On Tuesday, helicopters transported hundreds of  tons of huge rocks to the site, to fill the gaping hole left in the infrastructure and avoid a catastrophe that threatened to flood the homes and businesses of nearly 200,000 people downstream with a 30-foot wall of water from the Oroville Lake. The lake is unusually full for this time of year due to frequent storms during the past few weeks.

What’s worse, over the next week, the state is expected to get an additional 11 inches  or more of rain, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

And, although the evacuated population has been allowed to return to homes and businesses downstream, dam operators have spent days preparing for new storms, continuing to spill enough water out of the lake to accommodate incoming rain, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

“Once this is over with, once they get the water down, they’ll have to do some investigative work and determine what caused this in the first place,” Dusty Myers, an engineer and president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials told The Washington Post. “How did they lose material underneath? What caused it to collapse? [The answers] will dictate what work they do.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a news briefing Tuesday that President Trump is “keeping a close eye” on the Oroville Dam emergency, a “textbook example” of the country’s need for better infrastructure, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Dams, bridges, roads and all ports around the country have fallen into disrepair. In order to prevent the next disaster, we will pursue the president’s vision for overhaul of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” Spicer said.

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