Since Calpine withdrew its proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal and accompanying 220 MW power plant near Eureka in March, hand-wringing among business leaders over the electrical fate of the North Coast has increased. However, the grid operator and Pacific Gas & Electric dismiss fears of shortages. The area has similarities to San Francisco?it?s basically a transmission ?island,? with old gas-fired power plants for local load and topographical barriers to bringing in power from the outside through new transmission lines. But unlike San Francisco, Humboldt County?s electrical load is stable and slow-growing, say grid watchers. Humboldt County is linked to the state?s transmission infrastructure by one pair of 115 kV lines stretching 120 miles across rugged forests and wilderness from the east and two 60 kV lines running through canyons and across rivers from the south. Transmission into the area is ?somewhat constrained,? according to Gregg Fishman, spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). But despite commercial concerns, the county is amply powered by local generation. ?We are confident that we can continue serving that level of load without too much additional generation capacity or transmission,? Fishman added. Still, some county officials recently latched onto the dubious promise of an untested wave-energy system proposed by Independent Natural Resources, based in Minnesota. Some see an experimental wave technology as a ticket to greater reliability. Waves would be harnessed to pump water into a reservoir, then the stored water would be used for hydropower?basically a pumped-storage facility. ?To address the energy issues [in the county], the chamber and local governments are looking at this wave-generated electricity proposal,? said J. Warren Hockaday, executive director of the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce. According to CAISO and Pacific Gas & Electric spokespersons, there is no need for the county?s 130,000 people to hang their hopes on futuristic generation technologies. While Humboldt is in a transmission cul-de-sac like San Francisco, PG&E maintains that in this case, being a transmission island is a good thing. According to utility spokesperson Jon Tremayne, the local generation units and the county?s limited connections to the grid provide a unique status that insulated the region from the 1996 blackout. ?The way the system is set up, it has the ability to create an island from an electrical grid perspective. That can?t be said for most places,? he said. The bulk of the region?s megawatts are generated by PG&E?s gas-fired units on Humboldt Bay. The region?s peak load is 160 MW. About 40 MW to 50 MW of local generation capacity comes from two biomass power plants that burn wood scrap from area sawmills. There is one glitch in this picture of reliability: PG&E?s two stationary units?representing 105 MW of combined capacity?were flagged recently by the California Energy Commission as two of the many aging units in the state that may face an uncertain future given higher operating costs and lower efficiency (<i>Circuit<\/i>, August 6, 2004). The commission?s report also noted that the Humboldt Bay units have extraordinarily high nitrogen oxide emissions?3.5 pounds per million Btu, versus an average for the aging plants of 0.13 lb.\/MMBtu. PG&E?s Tremayne said the high NOx levels were limited to a period in 2001 when the units were switched from gas to fuel oil. When consuming their usual gas diet, the boilers? emissions profiles are more in line with other old plants, according to Tremayne and the Air Resources Board. Tremayne also said the company recently invested $3 million in new automated boiler controls for the stationary and mobile units in the plant.