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Groups Call Lake Powell Hydropower Project 'Unsustainable'

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The planned Navajo Energy Storage Station would use water from Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to generate hydropower and sell it to cities in Arizona, California and Nevada. (TebNad/Adobe Stock)
The planned Navajo Energy Storage Station would use water from Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to generate hydropower and sell it to cities in Arizona, California and Nevada. (TebNad/Adobe Stock)
 By Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ - Producer, Contact
February 25, 2021

PAGE, Ariz. -- Federal regulators have issued a preliminary permit for a pumped-hydropower project using water from Lake Powell, but conservation groups say climate change could make the plan unsustainable.

The project would pump water from the lake, drain it downhill to a generator, and send the power to massive batteries for storage.

The 2,200-megawatt project would supply cities in Arizona, California and Nevada, over lines previously used by the retired Navajo Generating Station.

Gary Wockner, executive director for Save the Colorado, which opposes the plan, said falling water levels will make the Colorado River Basin an unreliable source of water.

"It's trying to build billions of dollars worth of the infrastructure in this lake and in the system that is clearly in severe decline," Wockner pointed out. "It's a strange way to try to generate electricity. There's a lot smarter, faster, easier ways to generate electricity than pumped-storage hydro."

The permit gives the developer, Daybreak Power, the go-ahead to negotiate for land-use rights and finalize plans for the project. But conservation groups say the 3-point-6-billion dollars would be better invested in solar and wind-power projects.

Jim Day, founder and CEO of Daybreak Power, claimed federal officials who reviewed the hydropower plans didn't find any major problems.

"The Bureau of Reclamation has already looked at potential impacts on the operations of Glen Canyon Dam and their preliminary look at it, they think it's perfectly compatible," Day stated.

Save the Colorado and WildEarth Guardians, both challenging the permit, said developers are ignoring climate science.

They added diminishing inflows will deplete Lake Powell of enough water to sustain the project over its projected 50-year lifespan.

Wockner believes the plant could be obsolete before it opens.

"Obviously, there's a big interest in alternative energy," Wockner acknowledged. "These things are very speculative, and this one is even more speculative because it would cost billions of dollars."

Before construction can begin on the Navajo Energy Storage Station, Daybreak Power must negotiate land and water rights with the federal Bureau of Reclamation and get permission from the Navajo Nation.

The plant is projected to go online by 2030.

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