California dam crisis leaves power market short of big hydro

A crippled spillway is threatening to submerge an entire region of northern California after a recent deluge of rain. And the state’s power market may already be feeling it.

As state officials rush to repair an emergency spillway for the Oroville dam — just 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of San Francisco — an 819-megawatt hydropower plant, capable of supplying about 600,000 homes with electricity, remains shut there until authorities judge it is safe to come back online. That’s the equivalent of two natural gas-fired power plants that will need to kick into gear elsewhere in California to make up for the lost supplies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The threat of flooding at Oroville may remain throughout the week. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Sunday to mobilize resources and support evacuations. And over the next week, the state is expected to get an additional 11 inches (28 centimeters) or more of rain, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

The incoming storm, which will strike the Pacific Northwest first on Tuesday, will shift south Wednesday, said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. This is bound to put more stress on the Oroville reservoir and dam, he said.

“There will a lot of additional rain getting to that reservoir,” Oravec said. “It is not going to bode well. There is going to be a lot of run off.”

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