Gibraltar Reservoir overflows its dam on January 24, 2017.

Santa Barbara’s tiny hydroelectric power plant went back into business now that water again cascades from Gibraltar Dam. Repaired and recommissioned in April 2015 at a cost of $875,000, the turbine has sat idle due to the drought, said Cathy Taylor, water systems manager for the City of Santa Barbara. SoCal Edison buys the clean energy, which should bring between $100,000 and $200,000 in revenue for the city.

Gibraltar Dam’s overflow had powered the Lauro Reservoir water wheel since 1985, but the plant was idled in 1998 due to regulatory issues. Those hurdles were overcome in 2013 with the passage of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, which exempted small projects from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydropower rules. The plant has the capacity to produce as much as 1,874 megawatts annually — enough to light up 200-300 homes — as long as the water flows through the Gibraltar conduit at its current rate.


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