Wendel’s Honey Lake Power is a biomass plant that burns wood chips that heats a boiler that produces steam that turns a turbine to generate electricity. Photo submitted

When the PG&E line goes down, Honey Lake Power keeps lights on

When Pacific Gas and Electric’s line that supplies the Lassen Municipal Utility District customers with electricity goes down, Honey Lake Power in Herlong comes to the rescue. That process is easier now, thanks to a new agreement between LMUD and HLP.

“When the Camp Fire broke out in Paradise on Nov. 8, the transmission line between LMUD and the Feather River hydro facilities was no longer operational,” said Matt Ross, of Ross and Associates, a spokesperson for Greenleaf Power, the owner of HLP. “Unfortunately, this is the only transmission line able to provide power to LMUD and its customers. LMUD requested that the Honey Lake facility provide power to the region, which would otherwise be without electricity. Honey Lake received permission from its power off-taker, San Diego Gas & Electric, to provide the power necessary to LMUD until the transmission line was repaired. After 20 days of providing electricity to the local community, the transmission line was finally restored to operation. This is one of the longest stretches that LMUD has had to rely on Honey Lake for its power.”

“This has been one of the longest stretches of time where Lassen Municipal Utility District was left on an energy island with the only potential power source being H L Power,” said Charles Abbott, President and CEO of Greenleaf Power. “We are glad to help our neighbors keep their lights on for the past three weeks.”

Theresa Phillips, LMUD’s public relations manager, said HLP was commissioned about the same time LMUD was formed, and the plant has been producing power since then.

She said thanks to a recent agreement with SDG&P, when the PG&E line goes down, the change to taking power from HLP is now almost automatic.

Back in the old days, when the power HLP produces was purchased by PG&E, it was necessary for LMUD to “island” with Honey Lake Power when there was a problem with the PG&E transmission line.

Islanding is a 52-step process in which LMUD disconnects from PG&E’s transmission line and then connects directly to Honey Lake Power. The power that HLP produces then feeds directly into LMUD’s distribution system for use by LMUD customers.

Back then LMUD line crews had to open all of the substation breakers in order to interrupt the flow of power. Once the system was isolated from the PG&E transmission line, LMUD’s load could be transferred to HLP.

Transferring load was a slow and concise process – the power grid must be brought up piece by piece or the plant could overload and shut down.

“It’s so much easier now that HLP doesn’t have a contract with PG&E,” Phillips said.

Phillips said when the PG&E line went down during the Camp Fire and HLP kicked in there was a little “blip” that affected the Lambert Substation and the Johnstonville Substation, “so there was a little bit of an outage — maybe 15 minutes.”

And Phillips said the new process is easier for LMUD and better for its customers.

“We are grateful to San Diego Gas & Power for not putting us through what we’d normally have to go through,” Phillips said.

She said the large power companies have a statewide mandate to buy more power from biomass plants, and even though HLP is a relatively small producer, it fills a space in their power purchase portfolio.

And when the lights go out due to a problem with PG&E, HLP is there. Phillips said the electricity generated by HLP costs a little more than the power it receives from the PG&E transmission line, but the alternative is thousands of homes and businesses in the dark without electricity.


About Honey Lake Power

Honey Lake Power is a 30 MW woody, biomass electrical generation facility located approximately 20 miles east of Susanville. The plant is a qualified in-state base load renewable resource that has been consistently providing renewable energy since 1989.

HLP uses between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of woody biomass primarily from the forest derived fuel and sawmill byproducts removed from areas identified as High Hazard Zones as designated by Cal Fire’s Tree Mortality Task Force.

Greenleaf Power owns and operates four biomass facilities in California, Connecticut and Canada.