Contested San Jose power plant gets regulatory staff OK

Oct. 11, 2000—Subject to 192 conditions, the staff of the California Energy Commission (CEC) has recommended approval of Calpine Corp.’s controversial 600 Mw Metcalf power plant in San Jose, saying the benefits outweigh the potential for “significant adverse” effect on land use and visual resources.

The gas-fired project, despite the constant threats of blackouts this summer, has been bitterly opposed by Cisco Corp., San Jose’s mayor, and some local residents, who have claimed it will have a negative effect on the city’s quality of life.

In its assessment, the staff said the project will reduce by 39 Mw and 81 gw-hr transmission system losses, increase reliability, improve voltage support, and reduce the risk of rolling blackouts in San Jose and California due to serious electricity shortages.

Thanks to its location near San Jose’s load center, the staff report says more power will be available to consumers without additional consumption of water and fuel, saving between $23-$34 million. Noting the California Independent System Operator considers San Jose is the most power deficient area in the state, the CEC staff says the $350 million Metcalf project will reduce the need for imported power over stressed transmission lines and increase the local area’s reserve margin, reducing the potential for “future voltage collapse or rolling blackouts” such as the one experienced June 14.

The staff says proposed environmental mitigation by the company will reduce pollution and other undesirable impacts to levels that are “less than significant” with the exception of visual resources and land use. State-of-the-art gas turbines will emit less than 2.5 ppm of NOx, for instance.

But conversion of 20 acres of farm land into an industrial site will result in an unmitigated adverse impact and the project will degrade the visual character of the area and when considered with Cisco’s planned office development “contribute to a cumulative impact,” the staff found.

However, the staff said the project’s use of reclaimed water for cooling and proposed dedication by the sponsors of a 130-acre site as habitat for the endangered bay checkerspot butterfly also help outweigh any negative impact of the power plant.

The project is still faces major hurdles. It is subject to CEC evidentiary hearings and a final decision by the commission. The city of San Jose must also approve a zoning change for the site. The site should be devoted to office parks and high tech company development not industrial use, a Cisco company spokesman said this summer.

The Metcalf project, first proposed in April 1999, is adjacent to existing Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.(PG&E) transmission lines. During baseload operations, it is expected to use a maximum of 100,522 Mbtu/day of gas, requiring construction of a new 16-in. pipeline that will connect to an existing PG&E natural gas transmission line.