This paper presents a novel approach for modeling high-elevation hydropower systems. Conservation of energy and energy flows (rather than water volume or mass flows) is used as the basis for modeling more than 135 high-elevation high-head hydropower sites throughout California. The unusual energy basis for reservoir modeling allows for development of hydropower operations models for a large number of plants to estimate large-scale system behavior without the expense and time needed to develop traditional streamflow and reservoir volume-based models in absence of storage and release capacity, penstock head, and efficiency information. Potential applications of the developed Energy-Based Hydropower Optimization Model (EBHOM) include examination of the effects of climate change and energy prices on system-wide generation and hydropower revenues. An extensive comparison of the EBHOM with a traditional hydropower optimization model used in California produced similar results and indicated good reliability of EBHOM’s predictions.