TMWA: Limited Potential for Defunct Farad Hydroelectric Plant Property

The Farad Hydroelectric Plant, and a recently-constructed footbridge that's part of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway.
The Farad Hydroelectric Plant, and a recently-constructed footbridge that’s part of the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail. Photo: Tahoe-Pyramid Trail

Future uses of the Farad Hydroelectric Plant are minimal, Truckee Meadows Water Authority board members learned Wednesday, although the utility agreed to work with Tahoe-Pyramid Trail Inc. to get it a relocatable permanent easement through the site.

Tahoe-Pyramid Trail map.

Formerly known as the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, Tahoe-Pyramid Trail currently has a revokable easement. The 114-mile trail extends from Pyramid Lake to Tahoe City where the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe meet. Easements are rights to pass through or to use land that belongs to someone else for a specified purpose.

The board also agreed to work with the Truckee Donner Land Trust, which is based in Truckee and has expressed interest in ensuring the continuity of the trail.

TMWA got the property in Nevada County, California, as part of a settlement several months ago and has been trying to dispose of it.

“We would want to sell it in as-is condition, warts and all,” said John Zimmerman, TMWA water resources manager.

“Here’s my ’93 Bronco and it doesn’t run, but you can make it run,” said Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung, putting a comedic twist on the situation.

Selling the property might be more difficult than expected as TMWA officials have been learning about the land use policy in California. For example, it could take 6 months to 4 years for a zoning change.

“That’s crazy,” said Sparks mayor-elect Ron Smith.

Fees to Nevada County for filing zoning change applications are roughly $10,000 and an outside appraisal of the 70-acre parcel would cost between $7,500 and $15,000.

TMWA staff met recently with Nevada County officials to discuss the future of the property, zoning and other land issues. The property is zoned for open space, which mean few permissible uses under local regulations, limiting it mostly to parks, playgrounds, and trails. Even a campground would be prohibited under current zoning, according to Nevada County.

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A proposed zoning change would also mean an environmental review per the California Environmental Quality Act and involve the California Office of Historic Preservation, California-Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and various other boards and stakeholders from the public and private sectors. The property is also in a flood plain, which could trigger additional conditions and restrictions.

Desired zone change conditions cited by TMWA are a 100-foot setback from the Truckee River for construction, maintaining river access for fishing and other recreation, a permanent easement for the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail and no installation of septic systems. Zone change requests would require the assistance of consultants to guide the utility through steps and conduct necessary studies and write reports.

TMWA decided to hold off on advertising its request for “statements of interest” in regional newspapers, although it even went as far to request advertising quotes from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The plant was built alongside the Truckee River in 1899. It was the first electric generating plant on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Mining interests bankrolled the project so water could be pumped out of the Virginia City silver mines as the mine shafts were sunk deeper into the ground.

TMWA purchased the hydroelectric facility and some of its assets, according to an agreement in January 2001 between TMWA and Sierra Pacific Power Co., now known as NV Energy. As a result of damages from a 1997 flood, the Farad facility wasn’t operational then and Sierra Pacific was involved in litigation with insurance companies over coverage disputes.

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Insurance litigation delayed delivery of the Farad facility but TMWA and Sierra Pacific entered into a settlement agreement in June 2014. The agreement stated Sierra Pacific would assign TMWA 100 percent of all future insurance proceeds related to Farad and all claims for interest due for delayed payment.

The land transferred to TMWA in December 2017, but TMWA has determined that it’s not economically feasible to rebuild and rehabilitate the necessary components to create an operational hydro generation facility.

Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 405 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.