Anyone wondering what the noise back behind Shady Rest Park was this past week will be glad to know it’s all for a good cause.
In this case, that cause is a greener planet, as the owners of the geothermal plant move toward doubling the plant’s power generating capacity in the next few years.
In the meantime, there’s a 175-foot-tall drill tower behind Shady Rest, going 24 hours a day. It can take about 30 days to drill one well, according to geothermal plant owners Ormat and Mammoth Pacific (Ormat recently bought out former Mammoth Pacific partner Constellation Energy’s 50 percent share in the plant).
Another test well is also coming in the same area sometime before the snow falls, company officials said earlier this week. Several more will follow over the next few years in the area between the plant and the Shady Rest area, all on the north side of S.R. 203.
That expansion of the power plant, located just outside of Mammoth on the east side of U.S, 395, is scheduled to be completed in 2013. During the height of construction, as many as 150 to 250 people will be employed to work on the plant expansion, according to Charlene Wardlow, Ormat/Mammoth Pacific’s business director. When it’s all done, “a few” permanent employees will be added to the payroll, she said.
The expansion will be adjacent to the current power plant, pushing up into federal land in the area behind the plant, she said. Another section of the plant will also be “re-powered” during the next few years, replacing aging structures and technologies.
Currently, the plant generates 29 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 22,000 residential homes. The expansion will roughly double that.
The whole thing made Mono County Supervisors pretty happy Tuesday, especially District 2 Supervisor Hap Hazard, who was visibly delighted to think that the old substation area could possible become something of a happening place.
“We got the dog sled place, possibly Mammoth Brewery,” he said. “Maybe we should look at some new zoning ... encourage this kind of development.”
Hazard, a former Sheriff’s deputy himself, is a longtime advocate for cleaning up and fully utilizing the old Sheriff’s substation area, which now houses Mammoth Dog Teams, but has room for more facilities on the county’s land there. Tony Barrett and Dave Harvey and the Harvey family have secured property for their geothermal education center near the geothermal plant, with plans to build a temporary structure on the site in the next year.
But the supervisors also had some worries, especially about the potential impacts increased drilling and power generation could have on local water supplies, including Hot Creek Fish Hatchery and other local springs.
Dan Lyster, Mono County’s economic development director, said the impact of the geothermal plant has been studied for years. While there have been changes to springs and geothermal features in the area, researchers have not confirmed that they are caused by the plant’s activities.
Not everyone listening to the presentation by Wardlaw was so sure there had been no negative impacts due to drilling.
“That’s not necessarily true,” said Larry Johnston, District 1 supervisor-elect.
Another issue that raised some eyebrows was that the new power plant will use some Mammoth Community Water District treated water to help cool the plant during the “hottest days of the summer”. Wardlow said the district is fully on board with the plan, but some supervisors said it was imperative to keep an eye on the option.
All these issues will be addressed in an upcoming environmental impact document, Wardlow said.
The environmental analysis document will be accompanied by public meetings beginning this fall.