Wildfire Damage at Renewable Energy Complex Estimated At $35 Million

A sign at the entrance to Calpine's geothermal facilities at The Geysers, along the Sonoma and Lake County border. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The Valley Fire, which leveled more than 1,900 structures and left 3,000 homeless, also appears to have done more damage than initially thought to facilities at The Geysers geothermal field, along the border of Sonoma and Lake counties.

Texas-based Calpine, which operates the damaged plants, estimates it will cost $30 million to $35 million to repair infrastructure damage from the fast-moving blaze, which scorched wooden cooling towers and communications infrastructure at five of its 14 power plants.

Geothermal power generated by Calpine and other energy companies at The Geysers, which relies on naturally occurring steam from deep below the earth's surface, accounts for roughly 18 percent of California’s renewable energy, but a much smaller portion of total electricity generated in the state.

About 100 of Calpine’s 300 employees at the geothermal complex, who live mostly in surrounding Sonoma and Lake counties, were forced to evacuate when the Valley Fire swept through the region.

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“Sadly, a little over 25 employees sustained significant damage, if not total losses, to their homes,” Calpine spokesman Brett Kerr said in an interview. The company has established multiple employee assistance funds and has donated $100,000 to area charities, Kerr added.

Calpine announced Monday that the geothermal facility was back to full staffing after two weeks of operating at reduced levels -- but was producing only about three-quarters of its normal energy output, sending 540 megawatts of power to the electricity grid instead of 725 megawatts. At full power, the plants generate about a third the capacity of the huge gas-fired power plant at Moss Landing, south of San Francisco. Repairs will take six months to a year to complete, the company said.

"We appreciate the work of the first responders. It was their efforts to get the roads cleared and the fire put out,” Kerr said. “Everything that they did has allowed us to get back on the hill today to start the repairs and get back to normal operations."

According to Cal Fire, the Valley Fire now ranks third on the agency’s list of most damaging California wildfires since 1923.