The California Energy Commission staff gave a preliminary green light to certifying Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s controversial Oakley natural gas-fired project. The preliminary staff assessment, released last month, split its analysis into two parts. According to the first half of the assessment, significant impacts of the proposed 624 MW combined-cycle facility could be mitigated through permitting conditions. The nearly 400-page assessment includes evaluations of the project\u2019s impact on air quality, hazardous waste, transmission, land use, and noise. A key issue is the plant\u2019s impact on the surrounding community, which includes a large minority population, as well as a sizable number of poor residents. Energy commission staff concluded that significant impacts can be mitigated to ensure \u201cno disproportionate impact to the environmental justice population.\u201d The proposed plant was touted as being efficient and able to ramp up and down quickly. That would help counter the ebb and flow into the grid of intermittent solar or wind energy production. Some residents and Oakley politicians urged the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the facility in December in order to create jobs and lift the area\u2019s economy. The CPUC initially concluded that the additional power was not needed to meet expected demand. PG&E objected and asked the matter be reconsidered. The CPUC voted 4-1 Dec. 16 to allow the utility to recover in rates the cost of the plant, estimated between to $1.25-$1.6 billion. It inserted a caveat that no ratepayer funds be used until 2016, making it run as a merchant power plant until that date (Current, Dec. 17, 2010).