Long Canyon, near where it intersects with the Colorado River. 

A California man is again proposing building a hydroelectric pumped-storage project in Long Canyon.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has accepted a preliminary permit application from Frank Mazzone, president of Sonoma-based Utah Independent Power Inc.

The proposal is similar to one Mazzone proposed in 2008. That one, which would have involved building hydroelectric projects in Long Canyon and Bull Canyon, faded away in the midst of an uncertain economy.

The current idea is simple, Mazzone said. He and partner Joseph Tegda of Nevada want to build two dams in Long Canyon. Initially, water from the Colorado River would be pumped into the lower reservoir. Then, at night, when electricity is less expensive, the water would be pumped to the second, higher reservoir. During the day, when electricity is more expensive, the water would be released downhill to generate power.

“So we buy power from the existing capacity that utilities have at night,” Mazzone said, “and we sell it back to the utilities during the day. During the day, it competes with a higher energy cost.”

Now through May 22, FERC is accepting comments from the public on the Long Canyon permit application. If FERC approves the permit, it does not give Mazzone permission to build, but it gives him priority to build. The next step would be for him to apply for approval to start construction.

Mazzone said more than 200 hydroelectric projects exist throughout the world including nine in California. The United States has about 20 of them, he said.

It’s a type of business that’s been occurring for nearly 5,000 years, he said. He compared it to harvest time long ago. When there was a proliferation of grain, he said, some people bought it to store in caves. Then, during the off-season, they sold the grain at a higher price because of the increased demand. 

His project would use 2,900 acre feet of Colorado River water per year, he said, and would take five years to build.

He said the project would infuse as much as $700 million into the local economy and would employ 3,500 people.

But not everyone is sold on the idea.

“There’s a long laundry list of concerns we have,” said Lisa Bryant, assistant field manager for resources with the Moab office of the Bureau of Land Management. “In order for this to move forward, it would require an amendment to our Resource Management Plan on a whole bunch of levels.”

The BLM uses a plan it signed in 2008 to dictate where and how to spend and manage resources.

The BLM’s concerns with the proposed hydroelectric project range from recreation to scenery to wildlife to cultural resources to more, Bryant said.

The Moab Field office will work with the state office to send comments to FERC.

Local environmentalists have concerns, too.

“I have environmental issues, recreational issues and scenic issues,” said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers, a Moab-based environmental advocacy group.

“As a river guide in Moab for 30 years, I go through Long Canyon every day. There’s a reason for that; it’s beautiful. We’re not going to go there anymore (if this gets built) because we don’t want to look at reservoirs.”

His other concerns include tarnishing a beautiful area that provides access to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park and offers lessons on geology and history, as well as the threat of the Colorado River running dry (there is more demand than supply right now, he says).

He is also nervous about the dams being built in chinle shale, which leaks and could cause dam failure, he said.

He plans to voice his opposition as loudly as he can.

“Why can’t we just start asking our investors to do solar and wind?” he said. “Why does it have to be some sort of tricky thing?”  

To comment on the proposal, visit www.ferc.gov.