Touring The Helms Pumped Storage Power Plant

The Helms Pumped Storage Plant is now 30 years old. It's an engineering marvel that's been undergoing a renovation in recent years.

KMPH FOX 26 News reporter, Rich Rodriguez, takes us on a rare glimpse inside the hidden power plant in the High Sierra.

The Helms Pumped Storage Power Plant is located fifty miles east of Fresno and sits underground near Wishon Reservoir.

Back in 1977, it took construction crews seven years to bore a cavern through the mountain of granite and create the plant for Pacific Gas & Electric.

It takes two reservoirs to make Helms work. Courtright sits at an altitude of nearly 8,200 feet and Wishon is 1,600 feet lower at 6,550.

Michael Jones is PG&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 four and a half million gallons every minute," said Jones.

PG&E says Helms can produce 1,212 megawatts. To make that number more meaningful, that's enough electricity to meet the power needs of San Francisco.

The bowels of Helms is an awesome sight. The chamber reaches as high as a ten story building and stretches as long as a football field. It's carved out of solid rock one thousand feet underground. The three generators do all 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."

The generator rotors are currently being refurbished. There are new rods with pointed ends plus other parts for now under wraps. The project has taken eight years.

"The original idea was that it was just going to 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. "

On the 30th anniversary, Jones believes Helms has the capability of operating another 70 years.

Another interesting note about Helms is that twelve years ago, the TV show The X Files used the plant to film part of the last two episodes of the television sci-fi thriller.

The first scene features the star of the show, David Duchovny, breaking into a military base, which is the entrance to the hydroelectric power plant.

The room with the three generators was also where the action took place.

The cinematographer spent four to five days lighting the set for filming.

The crew later called the set "the war room."