In a plan that has been gestating longer than the current drought has lasted, hydroelectric power officially returned to the Gibraltar Conduit exit point today. The water that flows daily to the Cater treatment plant via the Mission Tunnel is now being tapped along the way to turn the turbine of a small power plant. San Roque’s mini-plant will optimally produce about 1,874 megawatt hours of power annually, which the city plans to sell to Southern California Edison for about $209,000.
The power plant was first built in 1985, but it was closed in 1998 when the costs to operate it outpaced the income from its energy. With the passage of a federal act in 2013 exempting small hydroelectric plants from federal regulation — the tiny plant had been subject to license fees and paperwork meant for Hoover Dam–type projects — the plant became affordable again under local rules. The city bought the land under it, after multiple delays and intermediaries, from the Bureau of Reclamation in August 2013.
The city’s water department foresees that as Gibraltar silts up, power production will drop to 1,657 megawatt hours, which can still power about 300 homes. The project to restore and upgrade parts of what Councilmember Bendy White called “the little plant that could” cost about $875,000.