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Activists and local political leaders vow to block hydro plant


Strong words at the Jenner Community Center Thursday. About one hundred people, mainly veteran activists packed the hall as local political and environmental leaders threw down a gauntlet, vowing to stop a proposed pumped storage hydro-electric power plant being studied for possible development near Fort Ross. 

In the realm of powerplants, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reigns supreme. But as opponents to the project laid out, here in the Redwood empire, other entities hold plenty of cards.

The firm behind the proposal, HGE Energy Storage 3 Llc, envisions pumping seawater into a hilltop reservoir when electricity is inexpensive, then running it through turbines and generating power before it rejoins the pacific.

While the precise location isn't set in stone, it seems likely to intrude into the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which extends offshore roughly from Point Arena to near Bolinas.

Maria Brown, the Sanctuary's Superintendent said that the sanctuary's protections preclude the plant.

"What the national marine sanctuary brings is regulations. You cannot discharge into our waters. So, you cannot discharge seawater that's been taken out, put somewhere else and put it back in. It's against the regulations. You cannot develop the seabed and that is, the seabed, my attorney has said, goes to the center of the earth. So, you can't sneakily go around and underneath. You can't disturb the seabed. You can't develop the seabed. It's against the regulations," Brown declared.

Skeptics are concerned that even minor alterations could have wide impacts. Dick Ogg of the Bodega Bay Fisherman's Marketing Association says the plant's impacts could imperil the local fishing industry.

"Minor changes have a massive affect on the ecology of our ocean. As evidenced in the recent marine heatwave, the loss of our kelp forest and our abalone. The outflow from water from a reservoir stored would have a terrible effect along the shoreline altering the water temperature and chemistry for miles downstream," Ogg said.

Former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey was also in attendance, saying the energy company just picked a fight with the wrong people. She urged the audience to pen letters opposing the plant to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, before the comment period ends August 28th.

Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins who also addressed the crowd of roughly 100, noted that when she and other local officials got wind of the proposal, they added specific language to the county's coastal plan prohibiting critical aspects. In case that's not enough, Hopkins said the county is calling in hired legal guns.

"I'm pleased to announce that the Board of Supervisors actually hired outside counsel that specializes in FERC processes, specifically to fight this project," Hopkins said to rousing applause.

Fort Ross plant, which won preliminary approval to create more detailed plans by FERC in June, has several projects around the nation in various stages of development. 

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