Sierra snowpack's silver lining benefit for electric bills
OAKLAND, Calif. - East Bay Municipal Utility District's logo actually tells quite a story, and it's a powerful one that shows how your bill may be affected.
The logo shows Pardee Dam up in the Sierra Nevada. At the bottom, you'll see what is actually a power plant that will benefit from this year's massive snow pack.
If it gets too hot, or we get a lot of warm rain, a quick melting Sierra snowpack threatens to do a lot of widespread flooding in many parts of California, especially the Central Valley. But, if it's an orderly slow melt, it could impact your power bill for the better.
California's dams, fed by Sierra snow, are spilling water to make sure they have enough reserve space so that the coming historical melt will not overwhelm them.
The silver lining: it's the mother lode for the Golden State's 386 hydroelectric plants which may supply as much as 22% of California's power this year.
"We have a lot of water that we're getting, that's going through that facility downstream…we use that opportunity in moving water to generate hydropower," said EBMUD's Andrea Pook.
PG&E has the oldest and largest privately owned hydro system, and it's fashioned from small systems built for miners and loggers 100 years ago.
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"PG&E has a system of more than 60 powerhouses and more than 100 dams and reservoirs. That provides us with nearly 4,000 megawatts of hydropower each year," said PG&E Spokesperson Paul Moreno.
That's almost twice the output of the gigantic Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Statewide, hydropower can generate more than seven times Diablo's power, enough to power up 10 million homes during peak demand.
"The abundant snowpack means more hydropower is going to be available this year…available longer into the season, well into the summer and fall," Moreno added.
Cheap, clean hydropower, especially during peak demand periods, will lessen the need to fire up expensive fossil fuel plants when demand soars during severe hot weather afternoons and evenings. That's a time when winds might be calm or solar power wanes as it gets dark.
"Any savings from the generation of hydropower will be passed on to customers," Pook said. "That will start being reflected starting in about January when we sell that hydropower, it is essential [and] helps us keep our rates stable."