By David Kligman
STORRIE—Falling water is the fuel that produces electricity in some of California’s most beautiful settings.
But the facilities that power that energy were built decades ago and are nearing the end of their lifecycle. Building a new powerhouse would be enormously expensive, so PG&E is instead renovating an existing powerhouse.
The retrofit is happening at the Rock Creek Powerhouse in Plumas County about an hour’s drive from Chico. The powerhouse, built in 1950, is nestled along a highway between canyon walls and the rapids of the North Fork of the Feather River.
Rock Creek one of PG&E’s 68 powerhouses from Redding to Bakersfield that provides nearly 4,000 megawatts of safe, reliable and carbon-free energy. It’s part of what helps PG&E deliver some of the nation’s cleanest electric power.
The facility produces 112 megawatts. When the project is completed, the same powerhouse will generate 123 megawatts, enough electricity to power an additional 10,000 homes. The electricity will also be more reliable.
The project is an enormous one and involved five years of engineering and electrical planning. As many as 60 workers travel to this remote location seven days a week.
“This is a first of a kind project for PG&E,” said area hydro manager Andrew Hagen. “Our hydro fleet is getting to an age where some of the units now are due for an upgrade.”
Rock Creek is powered by two turbine units. Only one generator is being replaced at a time so the facility can continue to generate electricity. The first renovated unit will be running by the end of November. The second unit will be completed by the end of 2013.
Some of the most intricate work involves replacing valves that were encased in concrete so solid that it added an extra month to the work. They’re also adding the ability to digitally operate the equipment. And workers literally climb into the generator to hand stack as many as 300,000 steel laminations, which form a steel ring that will be filled with copper coils that generate the electrical current for the power out.
Those involved in the project say they’re proud to work on a project that will live on for decades.
“It feels good to be a part of something like this,” PG&E electrician Matt Richmond said. “These generators have been around for 60, 70 years just running and running and running. So now we’re just going in and kind of getting them to run that much longer but more efficiently and more up to date.”
E-mail David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.