Energy Commission Releases Photos, Data On Genesis Solar Flood

Flooding on July 31 at the Genesis Solar Project in Riverside County | Photo courtesy California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission (CEC) posted photos and some preliminary reports Tuesday afternoon on its website regarding the July 31 flood that damaged the Genesis Solar Plant in eastern Riverside County. Though the CEC cautions that the data are preliminary and have not been reviewed by staff for accuracy, it looks as though the flood may not prove to be much of a setback for the plant's developer NextEra.

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The flood, which took place July 30-31, consisted of two very heavy bouts of rain and a period of high winds which damaged 35 sections of NextEra's parabolic trough mirrors. One rainstorm inundated the foundations of site buildings, and the next sent what appears from some of the photos to be a sheet flood running down off the mountains to the north.

Apparent sheet flooding coming into Genesis from the surrounding desert | Photo courtesy California Energy Commission

NextEra spokesperson Steve Stengel told ReWire on August 8 that the company's preliminary damage estimates were less than $5 million, and the CEC's documents support that assessment. In an August 7 email made public by the CEC today, the Commission's hydrologist Mike Conway relayed an estimate lower than Stengel's:

Things are actually pretty good after the storm, they were back to work yesterday. Estimated damage is about 3 million and will amount to about a month delay. 90% of the problems were related to earthen berms they constructed for temporary access. The berms caused most of the flooding and severe damage. The channels and dissipation structures worked as they were designed. The rainfall was approximately 3.29" in the first 6 hours and 3.5' after 24 hours.

In supporting documents supplied to the CEC by NextEra August 8, which the CEC also made available today, the company points out that the damage was done by a 100-year flood which arrived

during construction where foundations, fencing, major equipment deliveries, and other temporary construction activities were ongoing and not complete per the design. It is also noteworthy that the perimeter storm drainage system was still under construction.
Flooded building interior | Photo courtesy California Energy Commission

According to the NextEra document, the flood knocked down tortoise exclusion fencing, breached an access road and washed out what the company estimated as 31,300 cubic yards of soil. The flood also scattered some debris, and exposed two Couch's spadefoot toads on the site, which the project's Designated Biologist shuttled over to nearby Ford Dry Lake -- which was not particularly dry in the wake of the flood.

According to NextEra, the project -- which has received federal loan guarantees covering $825 million of its $1 billion price tag -- is still on track to start generating 125 megawatts of parabolic trough solar electricity in 2013, with the remaining 125 megawatts fired up in 2014.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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