County opposes federal permits for proposed hydroelectric storage facility
by Craig Bigler
contributing writer
Sep 18, 2008 | 1514 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Grand County council are asking that federal agencies deny permits for the proposed Bull Canyon hydroelectric pumped storage project because the project is not consistent with the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed resource management plan.

The council voted unanimously earlier this month to send a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expressing that sentiment and other concerns about the project, and asking that the county be included as a stakeholder should the proposal pass the first level of scrutiny by the commission.

The county’s letter states that the project would close the historic and popular Long Canyon Road and that two storage ponds may distract from the beauty of the area. Because the applicant company was created just for this one project and has only two employees, the president and vice president, it may have no assets or management backing it up should something happen to them, the county argues. “How can we be sure that the project is bona fide?” the letter asks.

All council members agreed that the hard work of councilman Jerry McNeely with the BLM on the resource management plan makes it incumbent on the council to support that plan. “It is for us, it is good for us,” councilman Bob Greenberg said.

Council member Audrey Graham insisted on the stakeholder provision. McNeely backed that because, he said, he is sure the two principals have never been in Long Canyon and know nothing about its value to the community. He said they are just trying to get FERC approval so they can start raising money.

The proposal made by Utah Independent Power would build two reservoirs in Long Canyon. The lower reservoir would be filled with water from the Colorado River, which would be pumped up to a higher reservoir during the night when electricity is cheap. During the daytime the water would be released back to the lower reservoir through generators to make power to go onto the grid when the price is much higher.

Frank Mazzone, president of Utah Independent Power, said the power generation facility would be about one-third the size of Boulder Dam, and environmentally benign because the powerhouse and pump would be located underground, if geology permits.

Mazzone also told the council that the project would be environmentally benign. The two reservoirs would cover 380 acres. About 40 miles of transmission lines would be built to connect to the grid. Construction would employ 2,200 workers for five years. There would be $150 million in take-home salaries and a total impact on the local economy of $400 million, Mazzone said.

“BLM has given us the word they have set aside the lands for this use,” Mazzone said when he presented his proposal to the council four weeks ago.

But according to Mary Von Koch, of the Moab BLM field office, Mazzone’s statement is not true. Von Koch said there is a quarter-mile stretch along the river that is in a power site reserve. But she said only Utah Independent Power’s proposed facility to pump river water to the lower reservoir would fit into that reserve.

“The rest of the project is not on land that is withdrawn for power site purposes,” von Koch said. “The fact they have submitted an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not in any way show that anything has been approved by the BLM.”

She also said that the canyon that Mazzone is calling Bull Canyon is really Day Canyon, and most of that area is owned by the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

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