Hydro-Storage Project Proposed For Lake Powell On Navajo Nation | KNAU Arizona


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Thanks for posting this. It's hard to find a lot of technical information on the project, but there are a few articles, and you can a learn a little bit from the project proponent's website. Here's a few key links for those who are interested:

This is the description from the project proponent's website, Daybreak Power:

Here's a few links to different articles that provide only a vague overview of what's going on:

Here's a few things I've learned. Conceptually, this is an energy project that uses solar and wind power to pump Lake Powell water 1,300 feet up (!) to the top of Cummings Mesa, into a new 6 billion gallon (18,000 acre foot) reservoir on top of the mesa. From there, power would be generated through a new 130-foot high hydroelectric dam up on the mesa, as water flows through the dam down to a lower reservoir (not sure where that would be). The electric power generated would be stored and sold to the general power grid in the SW via existing transmission lines that previously connected the decommissioned Navajo Power Plant. The new reservoir would be located due west above Dungeon Canyon, and about 2 miles NE of West Canyon. Based on preliminary plan shown in one of the articles, the reservoir would be about 1.5 miles from north to south, and about 1 mile east to west, or a surface area of maybe 800 acres, or a bit more than a square mile. (That's about twice the surface area of Crystal Reservoir on the Gunnison.) It might vary from 20-50 feet deep.

I'm attaching the only site plan I found online, plus a few photos I took when hiking up Dungeon Canyon in 2005 that give you an idea of the proposed location. I added the annotation based on the proposed site plan.

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 2.07.11   PM copy.jpg

11-09-05 Dungeon hike 11 3655 copy.jpg

11-09-05 Dungeon camp 2 3655 copy.jpg

11-09-05 Dungeon camp 1 3655 copy.jpg

Now my first thought about this project is that it's a bad idea, and for a lot of reasons. Conceptually, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to generate solar and wind power then use it to pump water uphill, only to generate new power through a dam. Why do you need a reservoir? Why not just generate the solar/wind power and store it? Seems there is a lot of inefficiency there, not to mention all kinds of environmental impacts from the pipes, pump station, and reservoir. Here’s just a few key issues to deal with:

1. You’d have to build a long road (20+ miles) to get there, plus excavation, cut and fill, and impacts to whatever biological or cultural resources are up there.

2. There’s safety concerns. What if the new dam breaches, especially if the water spills directly to Lake Powell? That’s 6 billion gallons with a 1,300 foot head…look out below!

3. Visual impacts. It might be out of sight for most people, but the pump, lift station and pipe up to the mesa across from Friendship Cove is not going present a very nice-looking experience. And then of course, anyone climbing to the top of Dungeon Canyon is going to see the whole thing…

4. Where is the water going to go from up there? You’re on the far side of West Canyon, about 17 miles as the crow flies (and much longer as the human drives) to the power lines near the Navajo Power Plant, but somehow you’re going to either have to cross West Canyon, Face Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon, and Navajo Canyon to get there, or somehow get all the way around the head of these watersheds… So there would be all kinds of potential impacts along this corridor, wherever it goes….

We need to learn a lot more about this project of course, but my bottom line is that it would provide very little benefit with all kinds of downsides. The primary beneficiary might be the pockets of whomever controls the power generated by this, plus any construction jobs, but the long-term problems would be enormous, and in the bigger picture, the project is just not needed or useful…


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Red Rock Paradise

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Usually a project like this is for night time production of energy instead of storing it in batteries. While not as effective as a battery storage solution it ends up being cheaper than batteries and you dont have to worry about the waste from batteries.


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Interesting. The idea of replacing the coal plant with a "greener" power plant seems like progress. I am generally OK with balancing modern needs and nature, if done right. The efficiency issue is important... it obviously needs to make economic sense, and I would assume it would have to be efficient enough for investors to pony up $4 billion.


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This is exciting.

The variable of the $4 billion investment is not measured in total revenue of the total sold energy from the hydro station, but the delta value between market value of electric energy during peak mid day periods when solar energy is actually generated and future peak use value when energy is sold (higher rates during morning and evening). That daily difference in value of energy is what makes this brilliant and endless. They are using a near net zero cost solar model to generate profit at future based highest exchange with stored energy sourced from solar.

Lowest electric cost usually coincides with sleeping hours, so the highest profit (daily) energy dump from the solar filled lake / hydro station would need to occur at the exact point when energy rates switch to highest (early morning and evening) and before they drop to lowest ( after bedtime to Sun rise). This low nighttime electric rate is also when steel factories produce their goods with electric arc furness. With unlimited daily solar renewal, this hydro model may flash dump entire load during just 1 high rate period (night or morning) - I would guess morning demand would be higher as solar availability slides across the country with residual solar still on grid from west coast during darkness on east coast (east coast residual probably does not exist). This is just a guess. Also note that total value from lake is not linear, the highest value is at highest pressure as measured at highest surface levels - but if free, all is enjoyed as near full profit.

The wild card is using the waste (unsold) day time excess solar energy to power the pumps to lift the water. In areas with excessive solar energy or areas with high production with limited export, there is such thing as net zero energy value where market value of electric approaches zero due to more availability than demand. With coal this condition would never exist as the plant would simply throttle back based on historical, but with more solar energy available than needed (think Germany) there are conditions on sunny days when combined with low use demands (weekends) where local real market electric energy values approach zero (google this - its real - free electric). Any unused solar energy is a full loss and has absolute zero market value unless stored. And this is the brilliant part. The elevated lake stores low cost or free excess solar produced energy for future value / sale. This is like being able to re-capture the lost profit from each unsold hotel room last night by shifting time sensitive asset forward to the future when demand and value is higher. Low cost "stored" solar changes everything.

If the lift is powered by surplus solar energy from excess production or from lowest cost production, the cost of the lift is basically free (minus time valued near zero COB). The primary cost of a solar station is front end loaded, such, the daily cost to make the energy approaches free (solar). Even if the cost to lift is not zero, the value is still relational and so close to zero it approaches zero. Wages and expenses will be negligabe and will decrease in relation to profit as total water volume at elevation increase. More Sun translates to more water at elevation, translates to more future energy for sale, higher profit against same fixed expense (labor to clean the intake grates)

The owners of the solar lake will enjoy great success, even if built without subsidy. Subsidy when used to launch a new technology is awesome, when it is used after critical mass has been established is a crime (subsidy still in place for coal and oil, which is crazy!) Spoiler - there will be LOTS of subsidy on this build. Subsidy for solar has worked (plz - do your research - actually self educate and enjoy awareness that total benefit greatly exceeds totaled losses, mismanagement and fraud). Same goes for green footprint of solar panels. Again - plz, self educate outside the bubble and don’t fall for the non defined or non measured “I’ve heard”…

The new NN with renewable energy will eclipse the losses of the closed NGS - may the NN be so lucky to structure their position to reinvest initial profits to duplicate the model for 100% NN owned assets in the future. With over 20% of the state of AZ being sovereign, it is possible this region can literally power more than most are aware (mostly solar). The death of the NGS is a massive gift to all, especially the NN when rebound and exit velocity exceeds entry velocity (intended error for added visual).

In relation to the water entering lake Powell from elevated structural failure, there will be localized disturbance, but this will equalize with minimal shock wake in comparison to a land slide of equal mass with actual hard volume displacement instead of liquid volume balance (dropping a brick into a kiddy pool creates big splash and disturbance, whereas pouring same volume of brick into pool as a liquid has minor result with just minor localized surface disturbance) providing added volume has unrestricted expansion opportunity (rest of lake).

Instead off using a 131 foot dam (not a coincidence) It is even possible to stack and connect thousands of shipping sized containers on top of the cliffs and use the drop to lake surface as the KE conversion value - this would provide a HUGE energy potential, and if left unrestricted and with enough containers and a big enough pump, could actually result in a dried lake every afternoon. (don’t worry, this won’t happen, just like the dam will never drop - but lake will fill with sediment)

For those of you worried about this being a visual disturbance, please do a quick google search regarding who owns the land that this project is being built upon, and if that bothers you, then just look away. Chances are high the visual impact will be minimal in relation to sample. If visual is a concern, just drape it with logo curtains like they hide construction renovations in Rome and Paris.

Aman could even have a private beach and private LZ here and enjoy an elevated view without the forced hassles of the lake below. In regards to the 20 mile road, that represents zero concern or challenge on a project of this scale. In regards to anyone who has hiked to the top of Dungeon canyon, again zero point zero as measured against the sample. In regards to needed or useful, I am not so sure I understand. Unwanted maybe, needed or useful, that is an argument with a clear winner. And why should the investor not be rewarded. In regards to batteries, the energy equivalent is enormous - too big to measure.

Awesome! Everyone wins, especially those who deserve to.
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John P Funk

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They are using a near net zero cost solar model
You're going to have to explain how this project would be a "near net zero cost". I'm highly skeptical that there is enough "cost delta" between peak and non peak costs to overcome the infrastructure costs and efficiency losses inherent in the system. It is intriguing to use a reservoir as a battery, but it's still a pretty expensive battery.


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Having a hard time finding all the projects like this that are being discussed. I know of three, Bishop/Mammoth area, San Diego (I think San Vicente), and Lake Elsinore. I a sure there are a bunch more, most of the public seems to be against it. Not a big fan of it for Lake Powell or Bishop, but it might make sense for Lake Elsinore and San Diego???


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You're going to have to explain how this project would be a "near net zero cost". I'm highly skeptical that there is enough "cost delta" between peak and non peak costs to overcome the infrastructure costs and efficiency losses inherent in the system. It is intriguing to use a reservoir as a battery, but it's still a pretty expensive battery.
Not to mention the fact the energy market is changing rapidly. Renewable's and improvements in efficiencies keep getting making energy cheaper. It seems like a huge gamble to spend all the $$ on the infrastructure that will take decades to pay off, and If the margin between peak and non peak declines it will be a huge bust....


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Not to mention the fact the energy market is changing rapidly. Renewable's and improvements in efficiencies keep getting making energy cheaper. It seems like a huge gamble to spend all the $$ on the infrastructure that will take decades to pay off, and If the margin between peak and non peak declines it will be a huge bust....
I agree with John P Funk and Dorado on this. It all depends on that peak/non-peak margin to make money, and if it doesn't, the sunk costs, not to mention the resources used to build the facility (including energy) are enormous. That said, I do appreciate the technical background and info from Bubba, and it's a reasonable perspective to have. No one is against making money, and people ought to be able to do what they like on private lands (btw, is this land private? or held in the public interest of the Navajo Nation?), but it's hard to see what the demonstrable benefit would be to the average energy user in the SW, unless this project were critical (i.e, no other better alternative) for alleviating short-term energy shortages, which I seriously doubt. In general, my perspective is that if a major project does not address a clear need, but would result in irreversible changes to the land or a public resource (in this case, defining the public as a combination of the Navajo Nation and those with an interest in protecting environmental or recreational resources), it's better to not to do it at all.

To play devil's advocate, a similar argument could be made about Lake Powell itself. If it didn't exist today, and it were proposed now, would Glen Canyon Dam be built? You can argue that 50 different ways, and of course we all love Lake Powell, but it's a fair discussion to have. It comes down to whether or not it would serve an unmet need of some sort (e.g., water supply, fishing, recreation, jobs, etc.) that outweighs the consequences of doing it. Maybe Glen Canyon Dam would still make sense today, but maybe not--I could easily argue either side, and I love the place. I've had conversations with people over at the Glen Canyon Institute about that, and it's a lively discussion, to say the least... But in the case of the proposed reservoir/battery/cash machine on the mesa top, it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me unless we knew a whole lot more about the predictability of the future energy market, and that it would actually address some reasonably foreseeable unmet need, have some greater demonstrable purpose. It's not enough to justify such a consequential project on the basis that it will make money for somebody...
They proposed something similar a few years back in a water filled quarry in New Jersey. Pump the water out at night when energy costs are lower then generate hydro/electric during the day and sell it for more.



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Near net Zero is real, not relatively speaking.

If the sample is 4 billion dollars (units in dollars) this is hard to comprehend. If you stacked 4 billion worth of $100 bills the on the top deck of your house boat, the stack would be 2.5 miles high (and sink your boat - weighs 80,000 lbs). If you took just 3 feet off of the top of the stack would anyone notice - nope, even thought that is 1 million bucks (near net zero - ratio). If the unit was changed to gallons you are dealing with a sample of 4 billion gallons, or about 6,000 Olympic sized swimming pools with each pool holding about 660,000 gallons. If you took 1 pool or even 100 pools away would you be able to tell - nope - near net zero ratio. If the units were inches, 4 billion inches is about 63,000 miles - if you took 3,000 miles away (NYC to LA) would you notice - nope, near net zero ratio. If you had 4 billion milk jugs standing next to each other, the line would be about 380,000 miles long or 15 times around the world... you get the point - near net zero is an accepted value.

$4 billion is big, but $23 billion is ALOT bigger.

To illustrate near net zero ratio with a sample of 4 billion units, lets go back to the 6,000 swimming pools and pretend each pool has a value of just 1 penny… If the penny jar had 6000 pennies (1 penny per pool) are you really going to change your mean value if you are a few pennies over or under the whole. Here is a real life illustration - If you topped off your gas tank in your boat at Dangling Rope for $59 (about 6000 pennies) and the attendant only had $40 cash in the till for change for your $100, would you take the $40 change and walk away leaving the extra $1 on the table (100 pennies) - probably… if you did this, the equivalent conversion of that single dollar (100 pennies from the 6,000 penny jar) converts to about $60 million bucks in the original sample of $4 billion. Small values as measured against big values allows you to approach zero in ratio or relationships between two opposing and extreme values. The ratio is what approaches zero, although sixty million ($60,000,000) is a big number, it is easy to be viewed as zero when related to 4 billion (just like the short $1 at DR was viewed as zero).

A solar power generator operating at near net zero is easy to understand when compared to a coal burning power generator (NGS). The Sun is free, but lets talk about the cost for the fuel (coal) for the NGS.

In the mid 70’s the NGS was completed at a cost of about $500,000.00 (1/2 billion dollars). Unlike a solar generator and proposed cliff top lake (stored solar energy - a lake battery), the NGS required fuel in the form of coal to generate power. The cost of the coal is about $60 per ton and it takes about 8 million tons per year to operate the NGS generator - that cost is a BIG measurable number of about $500 million per year (which is about the same as the original cost to build the NGS). Over the life of the NGS the NGS paid out about $23 BILLION dollars (at current prices) for coal. That $23 billion included wages for about 350 coal employees over in Kayenta and a whole bunch of equipment and lots of Hopi water and diesel fuel for all the earth moving gear. The NGS also has a bunch of employees at the Page end of the tracks and that cost the NGS about 17 million each year just in wages, or almost another billion dollars since opening. Maintenance adds another few million a year, and teardown and reclaim adds a whole bunch more. Dont forget about the teeny tiny 1 million dollar NN land lease every year - yea, the NN got screwed - by the way, the $40 million dollar total lease can be viewed as near net zero when compared against total NGS spend of $26 billion.

So the original NGS plant cost half a billion, and the scrubbers to clean the pollution and keep the Grand Canyon out of IMC and IFR conditions added another half billion, and this makes the total mid 70’s era build cost for NGS is about 1 billion (and 1 chair for the NPS at the clean air act table). But this is a drop in the bucket in ratio to the fuel (coal) cost of $23 billion.

After the original cost of the proposed solar build, the fuel to power the solar plant (free SUN Shine) is just that - FREE, or near net zero. Nobody is sending a check to the electron bank at the Sun. The labor to run the solar plant will not require 500 employees like the NGS or 350 employees like Kayenta, but basically a few guys to keep the water grate clean and dust off the glass panels. The $4 billion is total, all in, with phantom money, including future money value and bribes. The solar panels can be located near the grid connection and even provide shade for homes built under the panels.

If you think that the delta money in near zero net fuel cost model (free cost to lift the water) and the future value (profit) is small, it is, measured in pennies, but it is real and it is forever and that makes an the payout measured in cash and in units of time measured in seconds, a very big number (forever is actually finite in this model at estimated 131,000 hours solar gen and 131,000 water drop before EOL and panel replacement). In reality, panel will be replaced before EOL due to increase transfer coefficients measured in factors of magnitudes of original (2x, 3x etc).

The solar fields planned at the NN are going to be MASSIVE. The aggregate site(s) will disrupt the local (west coast) price of electric. In time, the NG turbines will also fall silent as the wholesale price of electric approaches zero (as home owners self generate 100% of their needs).

Pennies do turn into billions. An illustration to visualize pennies turning into billions is a company named Kinkos - they sold photo copies for a few pennies each, the sold the entire company for $2.3 billion dollars…

Another example of near net zero fuel with billion dollar payouts is the Glen Canyon Dam, it takes free water runoff and generates near net zero cost electric (not much money spent by the Dept of Interior getting the water from the hills to the dam and trough the turbine).

Another low net model is nuclear.

Another low net model is wind.

Near net zero is a real thing. Something even more crazy than that, is Zero is actually a very big number, as half of all numbers are smaller than zero. Zero is also a very special number in society, it was overlooked for centuries by early civilizations, and is a relatively a new number as compared to 1.

Lets loop back to the coal, the 8 million tons of coal burned per year for 45 years totals about 360 million tons. Thats about 200 - 240 train cars a day full of coal for 45 years. The pollution as measured in unit mass (Kg) resulting in suspended in air pollution (airborne particulates - PPM - yes, you are breathing this) is over three times the mass value of the original fuel (coal) before combustion - before you call BS, don’t forget to add the weight of the bonding elements at combustion and shared electrons to fill the SPDF Orbitals of the new compounds. What that means is your total mass of pollution is almost 900 train cars (mass equivalent) per day being pumped into the air at NGS (minus ash). The pollution from the solar plant (after completion) is near net zero - there will be limited VOC off gassing from production solvents (like the small of a new car), enough smell to fill a hot air ballon or two.

In closing, the skies are indeed clearer because there is less localized pollution because the smoke from the combustion of coal at NGS is gone. This is an absolute, even if measured with just 2 data points (see other post on WW noting skies were clearer on both days at lake since NGS stopped). Scientifically two data points lacks ability to identify data point clusters (patterns) and anomalies (errors). But in this case I will bet the farm that the two data points represent an absolute measurable and predictable result that can be duplicated. No NGS smoke, no NGS sourced pollution, yielding clearer localized skies. Absolute Zero chance of error in this conclusion. Absolute Zero is actually a real number accepted as -273, how is this possible… That is a fun chat for another day.

Near net zero is real.


Active Member
about the only thing you've left out there is that currently there is little market for the existing extra electricity in the west when the sun is a full strength during the midday. they are shutting down some hydroelectric because the price for energy around then is near zero (you can see this happening recently in the daily Oroville Dam pumped storage and generating flows).

there was recent talk about doing pumped storage for Lake Mead too. making it yet another large battery storage (even more than it already is) with most of the infrastructure already in place they might be able to do it for a lot less investment. if it is economical for Lake Mead it would also be economical for Lake Powell...

John P Funk

Well-Known Member
Near net Zero is real, not relatively speaking....$4 billion is big, but $23 billion is ALOT bigger.
This is the kind of math that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are counting on to drag us into socialism. You contradict your first statement in the next statement. You say "not relatively speaking", and then the rest of your support is based on the costs being relatively small(compared to coal)? This is the most nonsensical argument for a project I've ever heard. Relatively speaking the project only costs $4 billion when it could have cost $23 billion? This kind of logic makes no sense, just like all progressive spending. The fuel example is ridiculous as well, Aramark does tend to be a racket, but to suggest that I'd be okay with them literally stealing a dollar is just ridiculous. Maybe you're okay with giving up more of what you work for, but that doesn't make you generous, it makes you a fool. The only way a project makes sense is if the ROI comes in a reasonable time and the investors are willing to wait for that return. This fact is why commercial solar and even individual solar hasn't grown any faster(even with healthy Federal Subsidies(you're welcome)). Using the Government to bias any project one way(subsidies) or the other(regulation) is an abuse and leads to corruption and "crony" capitalism.

Kevin G

I bought a house with solar panels installed on it. I've been there 14 months now. My electric bill is $12.23 a month - the minimum the power company charges for producing a statement. All summer long I bank extra KW's for use in the winter when there's less solar generated. I grew up in a house powered by oil & gas (both parents worked in that field). A good mix of energy sources is a good idea. I'm enjoying the cost savings. I also enjoyed having food, shelter and clothing when I was a child living in an oil & gas household.


Well-Known Member
Nobody would argue that solar energy isn't a great thing. And of course it's a no-brainer to encourage innovation in seeking ways to find more sustainable sources of energy than finite fossil fuels. As for the arguments surrounding the concept of "near net zero", well that's all very interesting stuff, and important too, although I would argue that "near net zero" is not zero. For every analogy such as those that Bubba suggests--and they are persuasive--you can always say something like the fact that the commercial aviation industry has a near net zero safety record--only a very tiny fraction of airplanes crash. Of course, if you're on one of those planes, your family doesn't care about the concept of "near net zero".

But all this stuff is secondary to the main question of whether that particular project on top of Cummings Mesa is a good project to do. Economics are a big factor of course. Energy balance is another. Environmental considerations are another. Private property rights are another. But to me the bottom line is something like this: 1) is that particular project really needed; and 2) do the project's public benefits (i.e., will it greatly increase net energy reserves and reduce costs to the average energy consumer, and result in sustainable job creation) outweigh the irrevocable downsides (i.e., project costs, environmental impacts, changes to the land, possible project obsolescence)? If the answer is no to either of those, then it's not a good project. The followup question is: could the benefits of that project be better achieved with a different project elsewhere? I don't know that we know enough yet to answer those questions. But I do believe that because the prime motivation of any project proponent is profit (nothing wrong with that), the answers to the previous questions need to come in part from neutral observers, such as scientists and economists not associated with the project, along with input from those with an interest in the land--which not only includes the Navajo Nation, but the general public at large...