Regulators ask for answers on Blythe, Calif. power plant


BLYTHE, Calif., Oct. 2, 2000 (The Business Press)—As the price of California’s electrical power threatens to jolt Inland Empire businesses, a Wisconsin-based company is hurrying to build a generating plant in Blythe to serve the state’s growing regions.

While state energy officials are seeking more information about the environmental impacts of the proposed Blythe Energy Power Plant, officials at Wisvest Corp. are confident they will obtain the necessary permits ahead of schedule.

The Blythe Energy Power Plant, which would produce enough power to light a half-million homes, is envisioned as a natural gas-fired, twin-turbine generator producing 520 megawatts.

Promoters applied in December for certification by the California Energy Commission. In March, the commission declared it had enough information to proceed. The process generally takes a year after that.

“We’re hoping we can resolve the issues and get it permitted before March,” said Sacramento attorney John P. Grattan, counsel to Wisvest on the project. Just how much sooner, “I don’t want to speculate,” he said.

Wisvest representatives met with energy officials Sept. 27 to answer questions and “move the process along,” Grattan said.

The next phase of regulatory review is a final staff analysis, which is expected by Oct. 25, according to Lance Shaw, project director with the California Energy Commission. Consideration by the full commission is expected to follow.

As consumers cry out against high electricity costs in the wake of deregulation in San Diego, touching off calls for regulating the industry again, Wisvest remains committed to the project, Grattan said.

“As far as I know, Wisvest is moving full speed ahead on the project,” Grattan said. “I haven’t heard a word to the contrary.”

Located 170 miles east of Riverside, the generator will tie into the statewide and regional power grid through the existing substation in Blythe.

“The power goes where it is needed,” Grattan said. “The focus is on California markets.”

The $250 million project is expected to require 250 to 400 construction jobs and create about 20 permanent operation and maintenance jobs.

“Most people in the community look at it as an asset to the area,” said Ivan Murray, public information officer for the Palo Verde Community College District in Blythe, which is building a new campus near the power plant site. The plant is sure to attract new industry and jobs, he said.

At the California Energy Commission, which oversees siting of power plants in the state, officials are gauging the project’s impact on air and water quality as well as the power grid’s ability to handle the load.

“Until resolution of these issues, staff does not have a recommendation for certification,” according to the preliminary staff analysis filed jointly by the California Energy Commission and Western Area Power Administration.

The commission is certifying 14 power plants statewide as quickly as information is made available, spokeswoman Claudia Chandler said.

“We’re doing everything we can to move these projects as fast as we can, but we will not compromise the public process or compromise the environment or public safety,” she said.

Among the issues to be resolved in Blythe are:

  • Whether pollution from the plant will significantly impact the air quality of Blythe and its surrounding areas. State officials need more information on the ambient air quality. With the plant located in the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, Wisvest is securing emission reduction credits from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
  • The impact on water supplies. The plant will use groundwater supplied by three on-site wells, and will use 2,150 gallons a minute when operational. The water will be recirculated through the plant for efficiency. “More information is needed to determine draw-down of the water table that will be caused by proposed project pumping wells and the potential impact on existing nearby production wells,” the staff analysis said.
  • Upgrading the substation and grid transmission system to handle the plant’s output and possible overloads.

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© 2000, The Business Press, Ontario, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.