Calpine Makes Little Headway in Humboldt Bay LNG Project

By Published On: February 8, 2004

Developers of a proposed liquefied natural gas facility on Humboldt Bay are facing far different political and environmental circumstances than those at the more formalized proposal for a facility in Long Beach. The LNG terminal and related new power plant face more thorny environmental problems and a political environment that is polarized between development enthusiasts and die-hard environmentalists. Calpine proposes that the terminal be located on the edge of the bay on the Samoa Peninsula either on the site of a former pulp mill or at the municipal airport. A new 220 MW power plant would be part of the development. Two 150-foot-tall tanks would be installed on 90 acres. A pipeline would be built from the facility to Red Bluff in the Sacramento Valley. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors opened talks with Calpine almost a year ago on pre-permitting and feasibility studies. The Eureka City Council was one vote short in late December of considering an exclusive agreement with Calpine to study the airport site. While LNG terminals will be facing environmental opposition, Humboldt County is unique. It is a place where legions of environmental activists have given up their creature comforts to live in trees to keep them from being cut down. Environmentalists can be counted on to militantly protest the terminal, if not the power plant. Equally adamant development activists hail the proposal as a way to create much-needed jobs as the timber industry in the area is evanescent and tourism is a dubious fallback. The two sides are characterized by the two major cities fronting the bay?Eureka and Arcata. Eureka is the prodevelopment community; Arcata is teeming with environmentalists. ?We?re always trying to attract businesses that can pay living wages so any proposal that has an opportunity for those kind of jobs, we have to hear them out,? said Jeff Leonard, Eureka City Council member. Leonard has voted in favor of Calpine?s studies but says he doesn?t characterize himself as a project proponent. The area?s fishing industry, which is not in solid economic shape either, questions the terminal. ?If citizens could get their hands on more information, they might not have unfounded fears,? said fisher Vivian Helliwell of the Humboldt Fishermen?s Marketing Association. She noted that ships nearly 1,000 feet long would be entering the bay?a ?notoriously dangerous? entrance. During their visits?expected twice weekly?she feared there would be no other boats allowed in the bay because of security measures. Calpine said that the bay entrance would be dredged and deepened to 53 feet. The tankers are supposed to have a 38-foot draft. Environmentalists are wary of the extensive dredging required to meet that need. According to Tim McCay, director of the Northcoast Environmental Center, dredging is already the cause of slumping shorelines. He also noted that the eelgrass meadows that surround the bay could be at risk. The bay is riddled with earthquake faults, another potential problem. Proximity to three faults ended up being the reason for the permanent shutdown of Pacific Gas & Electric?s Humboldt Bay nuclear plant in 1976. Two aging fossil-fuel units on the same site are the only other major source of electricity in the region. ?That power plant needs to be replaced,? said Leonard. ?Beyond the fact that Calpine is interested, we haven?t heard much detail. It?s a long way until Calpine makes a proposal,? Leonard added.

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