Battle rages anew over proposed $2 billion hydroelectric plant in Lake Elsinore – San Bernardino Sun

Efforts are underway to revive a proposed $2 billion hydroelectric plant at Lake Elsinore that has been met with fierce opposition by residents, Riverside County and the Pechanga Band of Indians who claim ancestral ties to the land.

Six months after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissed its license application, Vista-based Nevada Hydro Corp. is again moving forward with its plans for a hydroelectric plant consisting of a 262-foot-high dam on a ridgeline above the lake and a 500-megawatt, underground power plant with turbines on 845 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.

The LEAP’s project’s proposed transmission line near Lake Elsinore is shown here. (SCNG)

FERC said it had rejected Nevada Hydro’s application for its Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project, or LEAPS, in December 2021 because the company failed to provide the Forest Service with requested environmental studies and a construction plan.

Nevada Hydro has been trying to get its LEAPS project off the ground for 18 years. It submitted its first application to FERC on Feb. 2, 2004.


FERC’s dismissal of the application, however, was done “without prejudice,” meaning Nevada Hydro could reapply for a preliminary permit, which it did on Feb. 8. Nevada Hydro attorney Michael Swiger said in a letter to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose that the company expected to have the requested studies and construction plan to the Forest Service “in the next few months.”

On April 8, FERC opened a 60-day public comment period, said agency spokeswoman Celeste Miller. “Once that comment period closes, we will review all the comments we’ve received and make a decision on whether or not to issue a preliminary permit,” she said.

Miller said a preliminary permit does not authorize Nevada Hydro to perform any land-disturbing activities, but instead grants the company priority in filing a license application during the permit term.

This rendition from LEAPS developer Nevada Hydro purports to show a view of the Lake Elsinore Advance Pumped Storage Project from Lake Elsinore's Eastern Shore.
This rendition from LEAPS developer Nevada Hydro purports to show a view of the Lake Elsinore Advance Pumped Storage Project from Lake Elsinore’s Eastern Shore.

Nevada Hydro, founded in 1997, said the project would give the region a reliable energy source and support 600 construction jobs and 20 to 30 permanent jobs. According to its website, LEAPS was designed to respond to the growing need for reliable renewable electricity and to help meet California’s ambitious emissions reduction programs.

Fire danger

Lake Elsinore and Temescal Valley residents are mainly concerned about the potential for increased fire danger due to the hydroelectric plant’s transmission lines, which they claim would prevent aerial attacks on wildfires by planes and helicopters.

Nevada Hydro has proposed installing 32 miles of transmission lines and 170 high-voltage steel towers that would carry electricity from Lake Elsinore to the unincorporated communities of La Cresta, Tenaja, Lakeland Village and Temescal Valley, and then connect to power lines owned by Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

Lakeland Village resident Hannah Dickerson lives in proximity to the Decker Canyon ridgeline where the proposed hydroelectric plant would be built. Her family also owns property in Tenaja, which borders the San Mateo Wilderness and Cleveland National Forest.

Should a wildfire crest the ridgeline near her home, Dickerson said, winds could push it down into her neighborhood and imperil its roughly 12,000 residents.

“This area is has extremely high fire risk and the regular ‘Elsinore Effect’ winds blow offshore toward us daily,” Dickerson said.

The Holy fire is what residents are reflecting on as they rally against the project. The arson-caused wildfire erupted in Holy Jim Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest on Aug. 6, 2018, burning more than 23,000 acres and destroying 18 buildings before it was contained three months later.

“The 2018 Holy fire justifies Temescal Valley residents’ concerns about LEAPS and public safety,” said Jannlee Watson, a spokeswoman for We Are Temescal Valley, a grassroots citizens group that formed in 2013 after Corona’s unsuccessful attempt to annex the unincorporated community.

“The route for the 500-kV transmission lines between the Sycamore Creek and Glen Eden communities would be in an area where the (Holy fire) burned and fire suppressing aircraft flew,” Watson said.

Additionally, construction of the hydroelectric plant is scheduled to take five years, with 70 trucks per hour expected to be trundling in and out of the project area around the clock, Dickerson said. “These trucks will clog up the highway and city streets leading to the interstates,” she said in an email.

Lake Elsinore is the largest natural freshwater lake in Southern California, and that fact alone should be enough reason to protect and preserve it, Dickerson said

Riverside County opposition

Riverside County officials also oppose the project due to the potential adverse environmental impacts it would bring. Jeff Greene, chief of staff for First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, said the county resubmitted its letter opposing the project to FERC on May 5.

“The county and (flood control) district have serious reservations as to the significant number of environmental impacts that would be caused by the LEAPS project, which are not offset by the project’s relatively minor benefits,” said Aaron C. Gettis, supervising deputy county counsel, in the May 5 letter.

Furthermore, nearly every study submitted on the project by Nevada Hydro is outdated. Some of the studies are nearly 12 years old, Gettis said.

“Nevada Hydro needs to restart the entire process and look at all the potential environmental impacts based on the existing environmental setting with new and/or updated studies,” Gettis said in his letter.

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority, or RCA, also opposes the project, maintaining that it would traverse land covered by its Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan — land that is necessary to “preserve and promote the conservation of rare, threatened, and endangered species.’

RCA’s board of directors will meet in closed session Monday, June 6, to discuss submitting another opposition letter to FERC, Greene said.

Pechanga Band of Indians

The Pechanga Band of Indians also opposes the project, claiming the lake as a part of their ancestral lands.

Mark Macarro, the tribe’s chairman, said Lake Elsinore is directly tied to his tribe’s account of the creation of the world. In a 2018 letter to FERC opposing the project, he said LEAPS is “fraught with environmental and practical challenges and deficiencies.”

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