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CA Okays Desert Power Plant

CA Okays Desert Power Plant

Developers of what at one time was California's first merchant power plant proposal are gearing up for more concentrated efforts to develop natural gas deals and power marketing efforts, assuming they get final federal government environmental okays for their $350 million, 700 MW High Desert generation plant by mid-summer. Although delayed more than two years, the plant last week gained its long-sought state approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Backed by affiliates of Baltimore Gas and Electric's Constellation Energy, the High Desert plant was the first proposal sent to the state energy regulators in early 1997 when California's electric restructuring began under a new state law passed only months before.

"We're still working on finalizing the plans in both regard to gas supplies and power marketing contracts," said Tom Barnett, the project's vice president of plant development. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of options. There really isn't anything firm we can say.

"In terms of power sales, it should be pointed out that we are part of the Constellation power source which is all part of the Constellation energy group. It has a very aggressive power marketing company. They are constantly expanding their role in the west, and they will be taking over the power marketing aspects of the project. Eventually, it could involve a portfolio approach, including a variation of short, long and intermediate-term supplies."

Constellation has invested in a number of PURPA-inspired coal, wood and geothermal plants in California, and the High Desert project will take the company into the state's rapidly expanding natural gas-fired merchant plant field. This is the fifth such plant approved by the CEC; three of the four are under construction and a fourth one (PG&E Generating's La Paloma) breaks ground later this month.

High Desert still needs okays from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The expectation by Barnett and project engineer Andy Welch is that those approvals should be in hand by July. Because of engineering and other preliminary work like the gas supply portfolio, construction likely will not begin before the end of the year, Welch said.

Gas supplies will be delivered through Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas, and interstate supplies could come from one or a combination of three sources-Kern/Mojave, Pacific Gas & Electric or Southern California Gas from Canadian, Rocky Mountain or Southwest supply basins.

Richard Nemec, Los Angeles

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