PG&E says rain and snow levels give boost to its hydroelectric power

PG&E said plentiful rain and snow this past winter gave a healthy boost to its hydroelectric power. The added snow and rain are already benefiting the utility’s customers, the environment and the power grid, the company said in a news release.

That’s because hydroelectric power is less expensive than most other forms of power available in the market. Hydropower also generates energy without producing greenhouse gases and helps increase the percentage of PG&E’s renewable generation for the year.

During the hotter months of the summer, typically in July and August, hydropower helps PG&E meet peak-demand periods. When the river systems are under control, water flows can be routed through the powerhouses to produce electricity to meet increased demands on the energy grid. This year the abundant snowpack could lengthen the typical hydropower yield into the late summer, the news release said.

PG&E said it expects this year’s hydroelectric power yield will be 21 percent above average. The additional hydroelectric power means PG&E won’t have to produce or buy as much power from other generation sources which rely on more expensive fuels, such as natural gas, to generate power.

The added hydroelectric power translates into a reduction of 886,621 metric tons of CO2 emissions—equivalent to the electricity use of 107,600 homes for an entire year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

California’s mountain snowpack was at 163 percent of normal as of April—the highest amount since 1995. A cool spring and additional precipitation have slowed the snowmelt, leaving the state’s snowpack at more than three times of normal as of June 1. That late snowpack poses its own set of challenges as the hot summer days approach and snowmelt accelerates.

“We have both abundant water supply and a late season snowpack—a great problem to have when it comes to hydroelectric production,” Mike Jones, power generation lead, said in the news release. “We are vigilantly managing these additional late season water flows to produce energy to meet our customers’ needs while also striving to ensure public safety.”

Jones pointed out how PG&E doesn’t have sufficient water storage capability to capture all this snow as it melts. ”Consequently, we seek to manage the hydro runoff in a predictable manner—releasing water to our hydro facilities and into river systems before reservoirs are full,” Jones said in the release. “River flow changes are controlled for recreational users. We want some reservoir space available in case we have a heat wave or thunderstorm that results in a sudden influx of snowmelt.”

Because PG&E’s rates are based on the forecasted cost of delivering the energy, less money spent on power in the open market translates into cost benefits for customers, according to the news release.

These hydro levels are also likely to help bring PG&E closer to its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goals, since small hydropower generation of less than 30 megawatts qualifies under California’s RPS mandate.

Although most of the news about full reservoirs is good, Californians need to be aware as they enjoy recreational activities at the many public facilities such as boat launches, fishing docks, picnic areas and campgrounds maintained by PG&E. The wet year increases the chance for potential dangers at these recreational facilities. The water in rivers and reservoirs is deeper, colder and moves more swiftly. To help keep the public safe, PG&E said it is increasing communications about water safety and how to avoid potential water hazards.