Few Permit Hurdles for Huntington, Big Ones for Blythe Solar

By Published On: October 17, 2013

Preliminary certification assessments for the Huntington Beach natural gas replacement project and Blythe Solar project in the Southern California desert reach different conclusions about the projects’ environmental impacts. According to the California Energy Commission staff, the impacts of the 939 MW Huntington Project planned by AES Corp to supply the western Los Angeles Basin are less than significant with mitigation measures. The new plant is to be air-cooled unlike the old one, which used large quantities of ocean water for cooling. Specific environmental impacts of a scaled-down 485 MW Blythe photovoltaic project proposed by Next Era, could not be reduced although the proposed site on public land was cut from more than 7,000 acres to 4,080 acres, concluded part 2 of the commission’s assessment released Oct. 11. Although the Huntington Project got a relatively clean bill of health in the Energy Commission staff first round assessment, there are unanswered questions. The staff preliminary assessment for the plant released Oct. 10, which is the first half of its analysis, noted the inability to evaluate whether land use, transmission system engineering, and visual resources issues of the Orange County project could be mitigated and/or met local rules. The commission is collecting more information in these three areas. In addition, the project’s air quality and public health impacts and alternatives are to be addressed in the second half of staff’s analysis. The timing of that hinges on the commission receiving a preliminary determination of compliance from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The Huntington Beach replacement project would sit on nearly 29 acres of private land housing the old facility. The modernized project is to include two power blocks, each consisting of three combustion turbines, able to ramp up and down to adjust to intermittent power flows from solar and wind energy plants. “Each power block would have the ability to generate power from 110 MW to 470 MW, could operate within a 70 to 100 percent load range, is designed to start and stop very quickly, and be able to quickly ramp up and down through a wide range of generating capacity,” according to the commission assessment. If the Commission were to approve the project in Riverside County, estimated to cost up to $550 million, demolition and construction activities are planned between early 2015 and late 2022. Environment impacts of the Blythe project were considered less than significant in the first part of the commission staff’s preliminary assessment released last month. However, a hard look in the second part of the impact at biological resources, cultural resources, land use, and visual resources resulted in the staff reaching a contrary conclusion. “Unmitigated impacts would require the commission to adopt override findings if the project is approved,” staff noted. The project is planned to be developed in four phases, with the first three consisting of 125 MW and the fourth 110 MW. If the scaled down solar project, with a capital coast of $1.13 billion, were to be approved construction would last 48 months.

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