Lake Elsinore area residents organize to oppose hydroelectric project

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Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale addresses opponents of the proposed Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project at the Lakeland Village Community Center, Jan. 15. Valley News/Will Fritz photo

Some local residents are organizing to oppose a twice-rejected proposal for a Lake Elsinore hydroelectric plant.

The Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage project, more commonly known as LEAPS, was tossed aside by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nearly a decade ago in 2011.

Vista-based Nevada Hydro Company, the project’s backer, submitted a final license application for LEAPS again in 2017.

The project calls for construction of a reservoir in the Santa Ana Mountains just west of Lake Elsinore and a below-ground hydroelectric power plant on the lake shore. Water would be pumped uphill at night and released downhill during the day, helping with electrical load balancing by creating up to 500 megawatts of electricity during peak hours.

However, many residents and elected officials have expressed concern about the project since it was first proposed, and things are no different on LEAPS’ third go-round.

At a “Stop LEAPS Hydro” community meeting hosted by anti-LEAPS group Forest, Lake and Communities Coalition at the Lakeland Village Community Center, Wednesday, Jan. 15, Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale addressed residents of Lake Elsinore and surrounding communities.

“I think the water district has said they have a means of bringing in enough water to do what they say they’re gonna do, but again they haven’t proven anything, they’ve shown no reports or studies, so we don’t know where that’s gonna come from,” Tisdale said.

What Nevada Hydro said it’s going to do, project manager Kierstin Ross said, is keep the lake at a healthy level by pumping enough water into it to run the hydroelectric power plant.

“We’ve pledged to refill Lake Elsinore to make up for any evaporation losses year after year, and fill the lake to the 1,244-foot level where it’s supposed to be maintained in an agreement between the city and the water district,” Ross said. “So this will be beneficial to the lake because historically they haven’t been able to keep it that way.”

Regarding the sourcing of the water that will be brought into the lake, Ross said as Lake Elsinore is ideally located right below Canyon Lake, which is connected to an aqueduct from the Colorado River, there are “several different water wholesalers” Nevada Hydro has identified that can bring in water from the California State Water Project.

While no deals have been signed yet, Ross said it’s clear where the water can come from, and this information has been communicated to the city.

“One of our representatives met with the city manager in early December, and he’s met with them very regularly, at least monthly,” Ross said.

Another concern from some at the meeting was the noise that could result from water being pumped to the proposed reservoir in the Santa Ana Mountains at night.

“When you’re trying to sleep, at 10 o’clock at night, you’re gonna hear this water being pumped up the hill,” Tisdale said, echoing comments from attendees of the meeting.

Ross, though, said that would never be a problem.

“What’s unique about pumped storage is a lot of the infrastructure is underground … 300 feet below the surface,” Ross said. “With that amount of depth below ground, there’s no vibration or sound that’s gonna resonate all the way to the surface.”

At any rate, keeping the lake level is something Tisdale said the community does not even want.

“This is a natural lake, so God normally helps us keep our lake clean – it’s called rain,” Tisdale said. “The lake is not in bad shape. It’s a natural cycle, just like when the lake dried up at some point.”

Doug Brenn, a La Cresta resident at the meeting, said his main concern was the power lines that would come with the proposed project – it calls for transmission lines to run through the mountains, past La Cresta, all the way to San Diego County.

“I think the pristine nature of the area we live in, to have 160-foot towers that could expose the property to maybe fires, the type of electrical fires that were caused up in Northern California, is some concern,” Brenn said. “It’s just a rural, pristine environment, and to be able to put 160-foot power lines through a pristine, untouched environment like the area of Tenaja, De Luz, La Cresta, is really problematic.”

According to Nevada Hydro, the power lines that are planned for the LEAPS project are not the same kind that are known to cause fires. LEAPS, the company said, will use 500 kV lines that “constantly communicate and if communication pauses for any reason, including fire, the lines deenergize within 1/10 of a second.”

Loy Stephens, vice president of the Forest, Lake and Communities Coalition and one of the organizers of the meeting, said his group will continue to fight the LEAPS project. Tisdale said the city will do the same.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.