CEC Rejects Calico, Brawley Project Challenges

By Published On: December 2, 2011

Two California Energy Commission investigations that lingered for months finally reached closure this week. The commission rejected a demand to revoke one power project’s certification and denied a complaint alleging violations in another plant’s licensing. In the first of the two cases, BNSF Railway argued that the commission’s certification of the 850 MW Calico Solar project in December 2010 was improper and should be revoked because it was obtained under false pretenses. Its previous developer, Tessera Solar, sold the project to K Road Power less than a month after commission certification. K Road ended up converting 750 MW of the project to photovoltaics from solar thermal technology. This led BNSF to allege that even before it received certification, the project’s developers planned to convert Calico to photovoltaics. However, after months of investigating the matter, the commission formally rejected that assertion Nov. 30. The glint and glare from solar arrays are feared to affect train operations. In explaining a staff recommendation that the railroad’s petition be rejected, hearing officer Kourtney Vaccaro said the complainant failed to prove the developer willfully and intentionally misled or deceived the commission. The four sitting commissioners agreed. The vote to reject the railway’s complaint was unanimous. Licensing violations were alleged in a geothermal development case where two could be one. There, accusations of illegal activity had been filed with the commission by California Unions for Reliable Energy in June. It was not illegal, according to the commission. In its complaint, the union representative stated alternative and renewable energy company Ormat was developing two facilities--the North Brawley Geothermal Development Project and East Brawley Geothermal Development Project. Each meet the 50 MW threshold that require the projects to be overseen by the commission--rather than by Imperial County permitting processes. The development is aimed for Imperial County. The union group contends the two facilities, which are separated by about 1.7 miles, were planned as one development, with each segment capable of an output of 75 MW. “The commission must exercise jurisdiction; a local agency cannot,” union attorney Tanya Gulesserian said. On a unanimous vote, the commissioners agreed with a staff assessment stating that the complaint was without merit. “Several experts testified that the net generating capacity of both facilities was originally designed to be 49.5 MW,” hearing officer Ken Celli said. “However, the uncontroverted historical data on the output of the North Brawley facility established that the current net capacity is about 33 MW … and that the average net generation’s somewhere in the range of 25 MW.” The current net capacity of the East Brawley project is 30 MW, Celli said, adding that’s insufficient evidence regarding whether the two projects would share property lines, infrastructure or linear features that would lead to a belief that they’re a single facility. Also in this week’s meeting, the commission gave unanimous approval to a contract amendment providing an addition $5 million in funding to the California Rural Home Mortgage Finance Authority’s home buyer’s fund. Specifically, the money is earmarked for a program that provides grants and low interest loans to homeowners for energy efficiency and renewable energy retrofits. The money comes out of the commission’s still-available federal stimulus funds. Additionally, this week’s meeting is expected to be the next-to-last one for commissioner Jim Boyd, who’s retiring at the end of the year after nearly 10 years on the panel. No potential successor for Boyd has been announced. The commission’s already been operating without a fifth member since the retirement of Jeff Byron in February.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now