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PG&E sells idle hydroelectric project on lower Kern

Kern Canyon Powerhouse

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. says it got $3 million for a broken, 99-year-old hydroelectric power plant along the lower Kern River. It will be the 22nd small hydro plant in the West for the Idaho-based buyer, which plans to fix up the facility and sell the electricity it will generate to Marin Clean Energy, a community-choice utility serving 36 Bay Area communities.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s broken, 99-year-old hydroelectric plant on the lower Kern River has sold for $3 million to an Idaho-based company that operates similar projects across the West but no others in California.

PG&E said it listed the 11.5-megawatt plant for sale in mid-2018, about 17 months after a winter storm rockslide damaged its gates and catwalk. The plant has not run since the incident.

The plant is no longer economical for its customers because it is far from the company's other hydroelectric facilities and regional headquarters, the San Francisco-based utility said in a news release Wednesday.

"An increasingly competitive energy market, lower generation needs forecasted on PG&E’s system and the increasing cost of operating the facility were all factors in PG&E’s decision," the release stated. It added the sale includes about 700 acres of land.

The plant 15 miles east of Bakersfield next to Highway 178 diverts water from the Kern and raises it about 5 feet before sending it through a 1.6-mile tunnel that drops the water a total of 260 feet into a power-generation unit at the mouth of the river.

Buyer Kern and Tule Hydro LLC plans to make repairs and reopen the plant by June in time for the facility's 100-year anniversary, owner Ted Sorenson said.

He said electric power generated there will be sold to Marin Clean Energy, a community-choice utility serving 36 Bay Area communities.

The plant may be relatively small and insignificant for PG&E, Sorenson said, but it's relatively large for his company, which operates 21 hydroelectric facilities in Belize, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

"It's better with a small business than a large business," he said.

The sale was approved in September by the California Public Utilities Commission. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a transfer of the facility's license in October. Escrow closed Tuesday.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf