Power project protests could be limited

California local government units will have 180 days to object to proposed power plant projects, under a measure overwhelmingly approved by the California State Assembly Monday and sent to the Senate.

Industry has complained bitterly that the real solution to California’s power crisis is to build more power projects, but only five new projects have been approved in the past 2 years.

Presently, more than 15,000 Mw worth of projects are under review by the California Energy Commission. Under commission rules, project review is supposed to be completed within 1 year. But the time often has stretched to more than 2 years.

Local government opposition can often hold up a project for years. Even though blackouts remain a real threat in California, Calpine Corp, the city of San Jose, and Cisco Systems Inc., for example, have locked horns over a proposed power plant that would bring some relief to power-starved Silicon Valley.

Calpine has proposed, and Cisco and the city are contesting, a 600-Mw gas-fired power plant in south San Jose about a half a mile from a new corporate campus Cisco is planning. The bitter controversy over the power plant-despite the state’s electricity crisis-demonstrates just how difficult it is to site plants in California.

Earlier, California Gov. Gray Davis asked the energy commission to propose legislation to expedite the review and approval process for new generation projects. A spokeswoman said a proposal has been prepared and sent to the governor’s electricity task force.

Under the proposal, applicants could ask for an expedited 6-month review. The expedited review would be applicable to projects which don’t have a “lot of complex issues” to resolve, the spokeswoman said. She described these as plants that would be located in oil producing areas and on refinery sites.

With adequate electricity supplies in the balance almost daily, alarmed California businesses have begun to pressure politicians to get things moving. Central Valley legislators have petitioned the energy commission to speed up the approval of the proposed $82 million100 Mw Hanford Energy Park.

But even with expedited approval, the project could not begin generating electricity until 2001. San Jose manufacturers whose electricity was cut off on June 14 have also been meeting to address the issue. A spokeswoman for the group reported one manufacturer lost $3 million/hr, while the power was off.