Comments to FERC Regarding Potter Valley Project (P-77) Decommissioning Plan and Schedule


July 29, 2022

Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 888 First Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20426

Re: Potter Valley Project (P-77) Decommissioning Plan and Schedule

Dear Secretary Bose,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations we offer these comments on the PG&E draft license surrender schedule for the Potter Valley Project, P-77 (Project). We appreciate PG&E for providing the schedule and for describing opportunities for consultation and public comment. We also understand that FERC issued a letter today finding PG&E’s proposed schedule acceptable.¹ However, we believe that this schedule can and should be significantly shortened, and that the Commission should require greater specificity regarding the opportunities for consultation and public comment, and for PG&E’s responses.

In today’s letter, FERC recognizes that “adjustments to the schedule [may be] necessary.”² The available evidence strongly supports shortening the proposed schedule to ensure the continued survival of Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Eel River which are currently at risk of extinction.

FERC Should Require PG&E to Conduct its Surrender Schedule More Quickly

We note in the table attached as Exhibit 1 below several suggestions by which PG&E could significantly reduce times provided in its proposed schedule. Among the most significant would be eliminating the initial six months PG&E has provided to “secure consultant support for the development of the surrender application and decommissioning plan.” PG&E has long been on notice of its obligation to file this decommissioning plan, and has more than adequate institutional assets to address its obligations with the dispatch required here.

The proposed timeline should be shortened because survival and recovery of ESA-listed Chinook and especially steelhead are jeopardized by the existence and operations of the Project. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has recently confirmed that both of the Project dams on the Eel River are implicated in continuing take of salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).³ Studies and the 2002 NMFS Biological Opinion resulting from the 1983 relicensing of the Project and subsequent ten year study evaluating the impacts of the Project on downstream fishery resources established that the existence and operations of the Project dams had been so seriously affecting Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Eel River as to risk their extinction if operations were not significantly modified. Between October 1996 and August 2000, multiple populations of salmon and steelhead in the Eel River were listed under the ESA as threatened.

Scott Dam is a complete barrier to upstream fish passage and thus to salmon and steelhead migration and reproduction. Pikeminnow introduced to the Eel River via the Lake Pillsbury reservoir cause significant mortality especially of juvenile steelhead in the reach between the dams. The lower dam, Cape Horn, has a fishway – the longest and tallest in California. But the fishway often blocks fish passage when clogged by sediment and debris after high flows, and exposes both upstream and downstream migrants to significant predation risks.

As NMFS explained in its March 16, 2022, letter to the Commission:

NMFS’ 2002 Opinion on the amendment to the Project license identified RPAs and provided incidental take authorization for implementing the proposed action for a 20-year period, which elapses on April 14, 2022. The 20-year duration of the proposed action is a central component of the Opinion. We relied upon this set duration to: (1) assess the effects of the proposed action; (2) develop the RPAs necessary to avoid jeopardy and the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat; and (3) evaluate the effectiveness of the RPAs over the expected life of the proposed action. Based on information currently available, we conclude that the Project is causing take of ESA-listed salmonids in a manner not anticipated in the Opinion and from activities not described in the Opinion. (emphasis added)

Thus, it is urgent that the Project and its operations be decommissioned and facilities removed from the Eel River as soon as possible.

To this end, it is fortunate that a great deal is already known about the Project. PG&E’s 2017 Pre- Application Document summarized many of the basic facts about the Project and its operations, in a light favorable to PG&E as the Project owner and operator. The studies PG&E undertook before it abandoned its relicensing effort resulted in some useful data collection. In addition, the Two Basin Partnership (NOI Parties) completed several studies which illuminate options for project decommissioning. These studies include two Scott Dam removal engineering alternatives, four Cape Horn Dam modification and removal studies complete with alternative diversion scenarios, water balancing studies, upper habitat assessments confirming the 288 quality miles of upper habitat blocked by the dams, and restoration estimates for post- dam removal processes.

Thus, because PG&E’s surrender and decommissioning plans can start where these processes left off, a shortened timeline for the surrender schedule can still provide the information PG&E and FERC require.

PG&E Should More Clearly State its Stakeholder Outreach Plans and Goals and Set Deadlines

Second, we request that the Commission provide additional detail about the nature of public comment to ensure a transparent and meaningful process for considering the stakeholders’ views, including those of Tribal nations, conservation and fishing groups, other interests, and the public, in addition to the state and federal resource agencies. We also recommend that the Commission specifically order PG&E to meet interim deadlines leading up the final deadline for filing the License Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.

Finally, we request that the Commission, in responding to PG&E’s proposed schedule, set forth a draft schedule for the completion of the surrender proceeding subsequent to PG&E’s submittal of its final surrender application and decommissioning plan.

It is evident that for regulatory reasons, and to manage liability and risk to the company and its customers, PG&E will have to remove the Potter Valley Project dams on the Eel River as part of Project decommissioning. If the company and the Commission approach this project with the urgency required, removal of the Potter Valley Project dams will happen quickly enough to permit the recovery of Eel River salmon and steelhead.

A table with PG&E’s proposal and our recommendations follows as Exhibit 1.

Thank you for your consideration,

Alicia Hamann
Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River

Brian Johnson
California Director
Trout Unlimited

Redgie Collins
Legal and Policy Director
California Trout

Chris Shutes
FERC Projects Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

Victoria Brandon
Chapter Chair
Sierra Club, Redwood Chapter

Mark Sherwood
Executive Director
Native Fish Society

Regina Chichizola
Executive Director
Save California Salmon

Scott Harding
Stewardship Associate
American Whitewater

David Moskowitz
Executive Director
The Conservation Angler

Glen H. Spain
NW Regional Director
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations
and Institute for Fisheries Resources

¹FERC, Letter Re: Schedule for filing surrender application and designation of non-federal representative for consultation (July 29, 2022), Doc. Accession No. 20220729-3016.
²Id. at 2.
³See NMFS, Letter re: Endangered Species Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Consultations on the Potter Valley Project (March 16, 2022), Doc. Accession No. 20220317-5064.