San Jose company wants to build $59 million temporary power plant

By TIM MORAN

Nov 14, 2000 (The Modesto Bee)—A San Jose company is proposing to build a $59 million temporary power plant on Warnerville Road southeast of Oakdale.

The 86.4 megawatt natural gas turbine power plant is being proposed by Calpine Power Co. It would be built under contract to the California Independent System Operator, as part of a strategy to alleviate power shortages next summer.

Calpine operates 46 power plants around the country and has others under construction and in the application process in California, including one near Yuba City that will provide power to the Modesto Irrigation District.

The Independent System Operator is the agency that runs the state's power grid.

After power shortages, skyrocketing electricity prices and threats of rolling blackouts this past summer, the agency agreed to pay up to $255 million to contractors for temporary power plants.

The projects, in Santa Clara and San Francisco as well as Stanislaus County, would go through a "fast-track" four-month licensing process with the energy commission.

A normal power plant takes about a year to get approval and up to two years for construction.

A series of hearings will be held on the Warnerville plant to consider a variety of issues, from air quality to noise and sight issues.

Calpine proposes to build its plant on privately owned farmland near another large structure, the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power Co. Warnerville Substation.

The first informational hearing on the gas plant will be at 5 p.m. Friday in the Oakdale City Council chamber, 277 N. Second Ave.

A public visit to the proposed site is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Friday.

If approved by the California Energy Commission, the plant would operate for three years starting in August.

After three years, the temporary generation plant would either have to be relicensed as a permanent plant meeting stricter air emissions standards, or be decommissioned.

Stanislaus County officials were caught off guard by the power plant proposal.

County Planning Director Ron Freitas said Monday that neither the Board of Supervisors nor the Planning Commission had been notified of the project.

Freitas said he wasn't sure what local approval processes might be eliminated in a fast-track approval, which is authorized under the California Energy Security and Reliability Act, a state law enacted recently to deal with power shortages.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District knew of the project. Scott Nester, supervising air quality engineer, said temporary plants probably make sense as a short-term solution to the state's energy problems.

"We've got to have electricity, and it's got to come from somewhere," Nester said.

The turbines used in the temporary plants would generate 5 parts per million of nitrogen oxides, an element of smog, according to Katherine Potter, public relations director for Calpine.

That's far more efficient than peak power plants that were built just a few years ago, which generate about 9 parts per million, Nester said.

New permanent gas turbine plants meet a 2 parts per million standard, however. If the temporary plants are converted to permanent status after three years, they would have to be upgraded to meet that standard.

The temporary plants are far cleaner than the diesel generators that were called into service during the summer, both Nester and Potter pointed out. They would only be operated during hot summer days when the power was needed, Potter said.

At Friday's meeting in Oakdale, officials will describe the project to the public and tell them how they can participate in the approval process, Potter said.

"There will be a series of local workshops on a variety of topics," she said. They include air quality, visual impact, biological effects on wildlife, water usage and human health and safety issues.

"The burden is on Calpine to provide information. If we don't, it won't be licensed," she said.

The plant would include two gas turbines, a 50-foot-tall emissions stack and a catalytic converter structure to clean the air emissions, according to Potter.

The turbines are "very quiet" and make good neighbors, Potter said.

Economics could be another stumbling block for the temporary plant, Potter said. Calpine typically builds plants for a 15- or 20-year life cycle.

Calpine would be reimbursed by the Independent System Operator for guaranteeing that the plant is available when it is needed. It would also be able to sell power into the California market as long as it doesn't interfere with the system operator needs.

The Independent System Operator is projecting an energy shortage of about 5,000 megawatts next summer. If the shortage isn't met by conservation or new electricity resources, there could be rolling blackouts throughout the state.

The temporary plant strategy was approved by the system governors on Oct. 4.

For more information on the Warner-ville power plant proposal, visit the California Energy Commission Web site at www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/warnerville.

For more coverage from The Modesto Bee, or to start home delivery, go to http://www.modbee.com

(c)2000 The Modesto Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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