Posted on April 3, 2017

Placer County: PG&E’s Wise Powerhouse Marks 100 Years of Operation

By Tracy Correa Lopez and Brandi Merlo

AUBURN — Chris Brewster talks about the Wise Powerhouse like an old, dependable friend — in this case, a rare, 100-year-old friend he hopes will stick around.

The exterior of the 100-year-old Wise Powerhouse today. (Photos by Brandi Merlo.)

“It’s built to last. It has run great with some upgraded equipment and, there’s no reason it can’t run for another 100 years,” said Brewster, a PG&E hydro generation supervisor.

PG&E’s Wise Powerhouse, which began operating March 4, 1917, just celebrated its 100th anniversary. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more proud of this achievement than Brewster or, for that matter, any of the PG&E employees who have worked at the site located at the intersection of Wise and Ophir roads in Placer County.

An 11-person crew overseen by Brewster tends to the daily operations of the facility. However, an even larger group of workers — from maintenance workers to engineers — have all played a part over the years. Earlier this month, they gathered for a celebratory breakfast to mark the powerhouse’s historic milestone.

“We probably cooked for 50 or 60 people,” said Brewster.

He said employees organized and cooked the breakfast themselves. The employees are all “very proud” of the role they’ve played at the facility, he adds.

The local Auburn Journal recently wrote about the Wise Powerhouse and took readers through a video tour to mark the anniversary of the historically-significant site.

Construction on Wise Powerhouses began in 1913 and was named after PG&E engineer James H. Wise, who started and worked on the Drum-Spaulding project until his accidental death in 1912 at age 32.

The powerhouse's giant turbine was built by Pelton Water Wheel Company of San Francisco.

In 2014, the Journal highlighted upgrades to the century-old building that still stands in mostly the same condition when it began operation. The upgrades included repairing the roof of the building and adding new, period-applicable outdoor lights. Cabinetry from 1917 was also refinished.

Wise Powerhouse is equipped with a Francis-type turbine built by the Pelton Water Wheel Company of San Francisco and is capable of generating 14 megawatts and passing 393 cubic feet of water per second.

It is one of 65 powerhouses that make up PG&E’s hydroelectric system, including a pumped storage facility, with a total generating capacity of nearly 4,000 MW that relies on nearly 100 reservoirs. PG&E has the largest hydroelectric system of any investor-owned utility in America, a system that helps it one of the nation’s cleanest energy companies.

Hydroelectricity is generated by the force of falling water. Usually, a series of dams and reservoirs collect this water. The water is then directed through large pipes. The pipes are called penstocks. Turbines use this water to spin generators to form electricity.

PG&E's Chris Brewster, hydro generation supervisor, Gus Thompson from the Auburn Journal and Steve Pettigrew, PG&E hydro operator, look up at the historic Wise Powerhouse on a recent tour.

Wise Powerhouse is fed by water from the Yuba and Bear rivers.

Steve Hubbard, journalist and author of the book, “Powerhouses of the Sierra Nevada” and responsible for the documentary film, “Power to the People,” studied the Wise Powerhouse.

“I can’t help but reflect on talented people who made it happen and the role that hydroelectricity played in California,” Hubbard told the Auburn Journal in 2014. “There was no coal, no oil and all these rivers flowing through steep canyons. California derived more of its power from electricity.”

Brewster, who has worked in PG&E’s hydro division for 26 years, said the plant has played an important role in providing clean energy to Californians.

Adds Brewster: “And the legacy continues.”

Email Tracy Correa Lopez at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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