SMUD’s South Fork Powerhouse hydroelectric project goes operational
South Fork Powerhouse complements SMUD’s 50 percent carbon-free power mix
SMUD’s new 2.7-megawatt hydroelectric powerhouse is now operational on the American River near Camino. Electricity from the new South Fork Powerhouse will supplement generation from an existing powerhouse at Slab Creek Dam. Because the new powerhouse is considered a “small hydro” project (less than 30 megawatts), the electricity it produces will count toward the state Renewable Portfolio Standard. The project received $1.5 million in U.S. Department of Energy grant funding.
The powerhouse project includes a boating flow release facility and is located just below Slab Creek Dam, about one-quarter mile downstream. This enhances whitewater boating flows on a 9-mile stretch downstream of the reservoir, improves raft and kayak put-in areas, and provides more boat parking and space. Boating flows will be released from the new facility, rather than from spilling water over Slab Creek Dam.
The powerhouse and boating flow release facility will also enable water releases from the dam for environmental needs, including enhancing fish habitat. The enhancements are required in the current 50-year license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for SMUD to operate its hydroelectric power plants in the Sierra Nevada, known as the Upper American River Project. The UARP is SMUD’s “Stairway of Power”—a system of hydroelectric generation facilities that provides nearly 700 megawatts of low-cost, clean, non-carbon-emitting hydro power, enough to provide about 15 to 20 percent of SMUD’s energy capacity during an average year.
Construction on the powerhouse began in April 2017 with commercial operation commencing September 25, 2020.
“The new South Fork Powerhouse allows us to generate more carbon-free renewable energy,” said SMUD Chief Energy Delivery Officer Frankie McDermott. “The boating flow release facility provides more accurate and safer recreational water flows for boaters while complying with the boating release requirements of the federal 50-year license.”
The South Fork Powerhouse project comes online as SMUD awaits transition closing of the Chili Bar hydro facility down river on the American. SMUD purchased the facility from PG&E last year. Chili Bar is also considered renewable by the state of California and adds another 7 megawatts to SMUD’s renewable portfolio.
As the nation’s sixth-largest community-owned, not-for-profit electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for almost 75 years to Sacramento County (and small adjoining portions of Placer and Yolo Counties). SMUD is a recognized industry leader and award winner for its innovative energy efficiency programs, renewable power technologies, and for its sustainable solutions for a
healthier environment. SMUD’s energy is about 50 percent carbon-free and is committed to delivering carbon neutral electricity by 2030, ahead of California’s goals. For more information, visit SMUD.org.
The new South Fork Powerhouse on the Upper American River is now operational and produces 2.7 megawatts of renewable power. The new hydroelectric power station includes a boating flow release facility that provides more accurate and safer recreational water flows for boaters. The power plant and boating flow release facility will also enable water releases from the dam for environmental needs, including enhancing fish habitat. The powerhouse went operational on September 25, 2020.