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Industry News

Energy Commission's Busy but Feckless Week

By Ric Teague

LCG, Dec. 1, 2000--Under the title "California Energy Commission Update: Power Plant Licensing this Week," the state agency responsible for permitting new sources of electricity for California's starved market said it had three things to report. None will add so much as a kilowatt of generation capacity.

At the very top of its list, the Energy Commission said it would postpone because of inadequate information its review of Duke Energy Corp.'s reconstruction and expansion of the Morro Bay Power Plant it purchased from Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Duke wants to tear down the 40-year-old 1,030 megawatt PG&E facility and replace it with a 1,200 megawatt natural gas-fueled, combined-cycle plant. Gone would be the existing fuel oil tanks used to store backup fuel for the old plant. Gone would be the existing plant and its towering smokestacks. All would be replaced by a shiny, new, efficient power plant of the most modern design.

The energy Commission says it cannot proceed because it needs addition information.

What's to know? There's a huge power plant on the premises right now, burning lots of natural gas to produce not only power but oxides of nitrogen, soot and other things. What Duke wants to put on the same piece of property will produce more power and less pollution.

Apparently Duke told the Commission what it needed to know about the power plant itself, but the panel needs to know about 23 specific things and Duke has only filled it in on 15. Here are the eight items about which Duke has thus far been remiss:

  • Air Quality -- This question seems to answer itself.

  • Land Use -- So does this one. The land is used for a power plant right now and it will be used for a power plant when Duke is through with its improvements.

  • Traffic and Transportation Impacts -- The modernized plant will likely have fewer employees than the existing one, so the Commission can't be worried about commuting during the rush hour.

  • Visual Resources -- We're not even sure of the meaning of this phrase, but we suspect Duke could get around the problem by planting lots of trees.

  • Cultural Resources -- We know exactly what the Commission means by this, and we don't believe that a power plant should be held hostage to political correctness.

  • Socioeconomics -- The regulators just want to show they know a seven-syllable word.

  • Water Resources -- Some gas turbines take a lot of cooling, even more than old-fashioned boilers, but some don't. Water is a problem in California and agricultural interests in the San Luis Obispo area have always had first call on local fresh water. But Morro Bay, as its name implies, is located on the seacoast.

  • Transmission System Engineering -- We are confident that Duke knows how to hook a power plant up to the grid, but we are not certain that the California Independent System Operator knows how to maintain the grid. The Commission should be dealing with Cal-ISO on this one.

Duke's Morro Bay proposal should be authorized. A 'phone call would do it.

While the energy Commission won't consider the Morro Bay plant at its meeting next week, it will vote on a petition by San Jose, Calif., resident Robert F. Williams who wants commissioners Robert A. Laurie and William Keese kicked off the siting committee for Calpine Corp.'s proposed Metcalf Energy Center in San Jose. He accuses Laurie and Keese, who is chairman of the energy Commission, of "demonstrated bias."

Williams is a "not in my backyard" opponent of the plant and has been peppering the Commission with petitions and e-mail during the Metcalf siting process.

The Commission also said the Warnerville Project, one of the special "fast track" small peaking plants proposed to put power in the state by next summer through installation of temporary generating units, would likely be shunted off the "fast track." That would leave only one peaker under consideration, a 51 megawatt unit proposed by El Paso Merchant Energy Inc. for installation at the San Francisco international Airport.

The Commission said it would vote on the El Paso proposal next Wednesday.

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