John Lindt

John Lindt 

Fresno-area residential solar units continue to climb atop Central Valley rooftops, including in Kings County. Figures show 729 homes in Kings County hooked up to their own rooftop solar in 2014, some 966 in 2015 and 1180 homes last year.

With the growth in more home energy production and increased energy efficiency, state energy planners and PG&E now say the Fresno region may not need some of those big cross-valley transmission lines they told the public as recently as last year were required to keep the lights on in the near future.

The forecast for Fresno-area rooftop solar power generation is pointing higher in the next few years from around 60 megawatts in 2016 to 215 megawatts by 2020 and to 600 megawatts by 2026 says a recent California Energy Commission study.

California Independent System Operator (CAISO) spokesperson Steven Greenlee, citing a November 2016 report, says “there is less need for” the proposed 70 mile “Central Valley Power Connect project because of primarily growth of rooftop solar and demand response and energy efficiency.”

PG&E had been pushing to build the $145 million proposed 230-kilovolt (kV) transmission line stretching from the Gates Substation near Coalinga to the Gregg Substation in Madera County. The idea was to provide the electric transmission capacity needed to supply forecasted growth in the region. The line would have traveled through Kings County and was at one time scheduled to be use by 2020.

Now that seems unlikely, although the CAISO is to make a decision in March.

In 2015, PG&E said that the new transmission line was necessary to accommodate west Fresno County’s growing electricity demand, which PG&E said was largely due to farmers growing use of irrigation pumps. PG&E also stated that the existing transmission poles could not provide the expected additional capacity required.

But instead of bringing in more distant power there has been a major increase in so called “distributed energy” - making more power close to where the demand is.

Kings Irrigation Districts recharge

Last weekend’s warm rains were felt up to the 9500ft elevation and local rivers became torrents of runoff. The Kaweah River flow climbed to 20,000cfs, below flood stage, but enough to get your attention. Watermaster on the Kaweah, Mark Larsen, says uncontrolled streams like Dry Creek, Deer Creek and White River added enough volume for water to reach their ancient destination - the old Tulare lakebed in Kings County.

“After all these years of drought, this good rainfall is a tremendous opportunity across the basin” says Larsen, the general manager of Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District (KDWCD).

Local Irrigation districts and farmers are buoyed this year by widespread precipitation volumes statewide so far this water year, enabling surplus water to reach even this typically parched area. The state’s Northern California Precipitation Index is nearly 200 percent of average so far this water-year with our own San Joaquin Index not far behind as is the Tulare Basin Index. Amazingly, all are on a pace of being the wettest year ever!

“We wish more of it would fall as snow, but after so many years of drought we are not going to complain," says Larsen.

Adding to the flows this winter is the fact that water is being released from both Lake Kaweah and Lake Success by the Army Corp to make room for more storms to come. Lake Success is mandated to keep its storage down to satisfy safety concerns.

But Lower Tule ID is gladly taking flood releases to replenish parched groundwater levels says manager Dan Vink - using new flexibility rules that allow more water exchanges.

And there is more.

 Larsen says Friant contractors like KDWCD and Tulare ID, will be taking flood release water from Friant Dam coming down the Friant Kern Canal soon - perhaps in the 10,000 acre-feet range - to be imported and run down area channels eventually heading to Tulare Lake.

“We haven’t seen this much water to replenish the system since 2011” says Larsen. That includes the lakebed area, “the lower part of the river system that in all the drought years, has suffered the most.”he maintains.

Larsen claims that a more cooperative attitude from the federal Bureau of Reclamation that started earlier last year, has made a difference.

Now with prospects for more surplus stream and surface water being brought in from the Friant Kern, local reservoir releases and even northern California water “we are getting calls from Kings County irrigation districts who are pretty excited about getting more water.” reports Larsen.

Both Corcoran Irrigation District and Lakeside ID have made requests to KDWCD for more water” says Larsen, that will be put to good use now - either turning off the pumps to use now, for short term storage for spring irrigation or for long term groundwater storage.

It’s been a long while since Tulare Lake has made any kind of appearance. But this year, she is stirring with the rest of January looking wet. Tulare Lake Basin is the name given to our part of the San Joaquin Valley from Fresno to the base of the the Tehachapis that drains four larger rivers - the Kings, Kaweah, Tule and Kern. In big runoff years like this one the dams built on each of the rivers just can’t contain the Sierra runoff and the old lakebed comes alive. Once the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, there were times this part of Kings County became beachfront property and you could not see across it.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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