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California Utility's Big Plans For Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam still serves its original purpose to be a source of hydroelectric power and a gatekeeper of water for millions in the southwest.

That's not to mention the millions of tourists who come to see and tour what is arguably one of the greatest engineering feats of the century.

A California utility thinks it can be even more. 

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has proposed an ambitious, $3 billion plan to essentially turn Hoover Dam into a storage site for excess electricity created by renewable energy in the region. 

Reiko Kerr is a general manager in the power system of the LA Department of Water and Power.

She explained that the problem is over production of renewable energy.

Right now, when the sun is shining, solar plants in Nevada and California produce more energy than is being used by customers. However, that power can't be stored. 

The energy industry is looking at batteries that might be able to store that energy but Kerr said a better solution is hydroelectric storage.

Here is how it works: during the day, when there is extra solar power, that power is used to pump water from a lower elevation to a higher elevation. When the sun goes down, that stored water is allowed to run down through generators to produce electricity.

“So, you’re essentially shifting from when the renewable resources are produced and using them at the time when your system needs it and your customer demand also needs it,” Kerr said.

She said that too much renewable energy isn't a big problem right now but as more and more states require more and more electrical generation through renewable sources - known as the renewable portfolio - it will become a bigger problem.

There is already a hydroelectrical storage facility at a dam in California but Kerr said it is not even close to the potential scale of Hoover Dam. She said that right now the dam is producing at only about 15 to 20 percent of capacity.

“If you had water that was pumping in continuance cycle, you could increase the efficiency of the generators that are there," she said, meaning the dam could be producing more power for everyone.

But the department has some major hurdles to overcomes.

A plan like that would need approval from multiple federal agencies - like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service - not to mention environmental risks assessed and local economies consulted. 

“We’re very focused on no negative impact," Kerr said, "Whether that’s the tourism, whether that’s the recreation, whether it’s water operations because we believe this can be done and must be done without impacting the downstream activities.”

Kerr said the department understands that water is the most important resource and it cannot be impacted by the project.

Right now, the department is studying the idea and consulting with some of the stakeholders to look for any potential problems that would stop the project entirely. 

Kerr said so far none have been found but the project is at the very beginning stages.

Despite the long road ahead, Kerr said, in the end, it will solve a problem and allow even more renewable energy to come online.

Hoover Dam already has much of the infrastructure in place and the project would update it for the future.

“What is very fascinating is it was one of the largest projects delivering power to California, built in the 30s, and now it’s one of our oldest ones and we will use that to bridge our future of renewable resources,” Kerr said.

Reiko Kerr, a general manager, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.