Planned Megawatts Rise and Fall

By Published On: December 14, 2003

While much attention has focused on transmission problems in the state, more potential megawatts to feed the grid have dropped out of the California Energy Commission?s power project permitting queue than have come in of late, and other projects remain stalled. Bankrupt Mirant asked the CEC to suspend its license application for a new 540 MW unit at its Potrero plant in San Francisco. However, two smaller projects are in the CEC queue. One, launched a few days earlier by Roseville Electric, is for a 120 MW project. The other, by Modesto Irrigation District, is for a 95 MW plant that has been recommended for fast-tracking. ?We are stepping back to evaluate the best use of future generation projects at Potrero,? said Mirant spokesperson David Payne on November 12. The proposed unit the company planned at the plant, bought from Pacific Gas & Electric, faced considerable opposition. The city of San Francisco is said to be eyeing the site for power production with its own turbines. Roseville Electric recently started down the CEC certification road for a combined-cycle power project. It is expected to meet about 65 percent of the utility?s present power needs, stabilizing rates and voltage. The project site is within a 40-acre parcel owned by the city, and the facility will tap into the nearby wastewater treatment plan for cooling. Roseville hopes to bring the power plant on line in summer 2006. Months ago, Enron applied for a permit for a much larger power plant in Roseville, but the application was withdrawn when the company imploded financially. The Modesto Irrigation District may shortcut the CEC?s months-long certification process. The CEC certification committee recommended that Modesto?s proposed 95 MW plant slated for an industrial site in San Joaquin County be exempted from the permitting requirements because it is expected to produce minimal environmental impacts. The plant will provide Modesto baseload power for three months out of the year and peaking power the other nine months. In addition to projects falling in and out of the CEC licensing process, a number of large certified projects totaling 3,780 MW remain in limbo. These include three Calpine projects?among them the 510 MW Otay Mesa project. Calpine hopes the California Public Utilities Commission will allow San Diego Gas & Electric to buy the plant?s output. Also among the stalled projects are Edison?s 500 MW Western Midway Sunset project and Mirant?s 530 MW Contra Costa facility. In addition, Duke?s planned 1,200 MW expansion of its Morro Bay facility has yet to be approved by the CEC. The company submitted a certification application in October 2000. ?The project has become a cause celebre and a symbol of how far industrial production will be allowed to invade the natural environment in this day and age,? said Jack McCurdy, a member of the local opposition group, Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion. Much of the controversy is over the upgraded project?s continued use of huge quantities of estuary water for cooling hot turbines, estimated to kill a large number of aquatic critters. <i>Patty Mote also contributed to this report.</i>

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