Vernon Scales Down Power Project

By Published On: October 2, 2009

Months after getting the thumbs down from air quality and energy regulators, the City of Vernon formally dropped its plans to build a large power plant. The little industrial city south of downtown Los Angles withdrew its permit application for a 943 MW power project from the California Energy Commission’s siting queue this week. With a population of 95, Vernon expects to file a new certification application for a 330 MW project “that will be the cleanest natural gas power plant ever built in the United States,” Donal O’Callaghan, city administrator, wrote in a September 28 letter to the Energy Commission. The larger fossil fuel power project was opposed by neighboring cities, schools, and environmental justice groups. In addition, Vernon was unable to line up the requisite air pollution credits in the smoggy Southland. David Pettit, Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney, who intervened on behalf of community organizations opposing the large power project on environmental justice grounds, questioned the need for any new plant. “I look forward to seeing their justification,” he said. The city has a fairly new 134 MW combined-cycle plant--the Malberg facility--built in 2005. Vernon also has plans in the works for 175 MW of wind power from the Tehachapi mountains. “The proposed 330 MW plant will integrate with the intermittent renewable resources from Kern County to meet the City’s native demand,” O’Callaghan asserted. Air emission credits are only available for projects that meet “native” load--in other words, not for commercial export--according to Pettit. He said he’s withholding judgment on a smaller project until he sees the city’s findings as to its future peak load and the specifics of its permit application for a smaller fossil-fueled power plant. The South Coast Air Quality Management denied Vernon an air pollution control permit last May. Subsequently, Energy Commission executive director Melissa Jones told the city her agency may terminate the application for the plant unless it could come up with bona fide emission credits (Circuit, May 29, 2009). The federal Clean Air Act’s new source review program requires credits for offsetting power plants’ pollution such as NOx and particulates. Project builders buy the credits on the open market. Credits are created by industries or power plants that curb air pollution more than required or by shutting down old plants.

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