Record snowfall in California increasing hydro power generation

Snow is blown from a taxi-way at the airport in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., March 2, 2017. Using measurements gathered by a NASA program, scientists have been able to gain an unprecedented understanding of the amount of water present in the Sierra’s snow. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Hydroelectric power in California is expected to decrease the state’s reliance on natural gas this year, after a year of record snowfall gives way to large runoff, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

California has been in a relentless drought since 2011, but this year’s record precipitation has finally reversed the trend. The state is not drought-free, but snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is 158 percent of normal — a vast improvement from near zero levels years ago.

Hydroelectric generation has already been higher in 2017 than it was a year ago, according to the California Independent System Operator, the electricity grid operator for much of the state. Power generated from hydro is double what it was this time last year, and natural gas generation is down 20 percent compared with the same time last year.