The California Energy Commission is moving to finalize two power project permits by the end of the year and before the expiration of commissioner Robert Pernell?s term. Recommended for licensing are Calpine?s controversial 670 MW Inland Empire project and the 185 MW Salton Sea geothermal facility. Scheduled for a vote early next year is the certification of Duke?s 1,200 MW expansion of the Morro Bay power plant. Over CEC staff objections, Pernell and commissioner Jim Boyd found that Calpine provided adequate assurances it could buy scarce nitrogen oxide offset credits for its Inland plant slated for Riverside County from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) prior to construction. Staff argued the permit recommendation ?deviates from and is inconsistent with requirements imposed on previous applicants.? They continued to assert that the trading credits identified by Calpine ?lacked specificity? and the NOx emission offsets should be in hand at the time of project certification, not construction. A wrench was thrown into the scheme of things in mid-November because SCAQMD was planning to return power plants to its emissions trading program, which would have increased the supply of NOx credits. The California Air Resources Board, however, advised the air district against putting power plants back into the program because of pollution increases. Vehicles and other mobile sources cause 90 percent of the pollution in the smoggy region. Pernell, along with commission head Bill Keese, recommended that the geothermal project alongside the Salton Sea be approved. The project would sit in a geothermal field of more than 100,000 acres and be the largest steam plant in the country. Its output would be used by Imperial Irrigation District customers. There are 10 projects near the Salton Sea that produce 326 MW. The new project would increase the output to 511 MW. The facility would use air pollution control technology. Emission offsets would be acquired because the project would sit in an area that exceeds health standards for ozone and PM 10. Also recommended for approval in a recent revised decision, this time by Boyd and Keese, was the Morro Bay modernization project that would suck in seawater to cool down the turbines. Staff and intervenors pushed hard to require that the more expensive dry-cooling technology be installed because cooling of seawater and its return to the estuary affect aquatic species. The proposed decision found dry cooling was ?far too expensive and cannot be justified? because the Morro Bay estuary was in ?rapid decline? because of sedimentation. It also noted that the project as proposed had a number of benefits, including $2 million Duke would send to the city and county coffers and the habitat-enhancement program. The upgraded facility would also pump out more power while using 30 percent less natural gas and swap two 450-foot stacks with four 145-foot replacements. The Morro Bay project?s opponents called the draft decision a ?predetermining conclusion in favor of Duke because it ignored, distorted or mischaracterized very credible and persuasive evidence submitted by independent experts.? The Coalition Against Plant Expansion said it would continue fighting the project before the California Central Coast Regional Water Quality Board, which will issue a wastewater discharge permit. Duke has maintained it cannot do the modernization with dry cooling. In addition to the $200 million price tag associated with dry cooling, the company said that dry cooling would violate noise ordinances and have land-use impacts. Instead, Duke proposes a habitat-enhancement program.