Helms Power Plant Turns 30

The Helms Pumped Storage Plant is now 30 years old. The engineering marvel has been undergoing a renovation in the past few years.{} Wednesday P.G.& E. gave KMPH Fox 26 News a rare glimpse inside the hidden power plant in the high Sierra. The plant is located 50 miles east of Fresno and sits underground near Wishon Reservoir.{}

Back in the 70's it took construction crews seven years to bore a cavern through the mountain of granite and create the plant for P.G.& E. It takes two reservoirs to make Helms work.{} Courtright sits at an altitude of nearly 8200 feet.{} Wishon is 1600 feet lower at 6,550.{} Michael Jones is P.G.E.'s director in power generation. "In peak generation mode were flowing about 9900 cubic feet per second of water from the upper reservoir to the lower reservoir.{} That's about 41/2-million gallons every minute."{}

P.G.& E.says Helms can produce 1212{}megawatts.{} Inside the main room you see three generators that do the heavy lifting.{} The rotating parts weigh{}one and a half million pounds and spin 360 times per minute.{} "Components of the generator are pulling in the generator{}rotor itself effectively trying to rip apart in a normal day to day operation.{} It's the equivalent force to 40 solid rocket boosters that are used for propelling the space shuttle into outer space."

Right now the generator rotors are being refurbished.{}{}Jones says the project has taken eight years. "The original idea was that it was just gonna be an energy storage device that conventionally would pump water uphill once a day and flow the water down and generate electricity once a day during peak demand.{}{}What we're seeing is that it needs to be used on a lot more variety and a lot more flexible types of dispatch.{} Jones is confident that Helms Project can continue operating for at least another 70 years.{}{}{}