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CA Merchant Plant Nears Approval

CA Merchant Plant Nears Approval

After nearly three years and some substantial changes in its natural gas supply flexibility, the backers of the proposed High Desert Power Plant about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles pulled together final air emission mitigation and water deals last week that they think will get them final state approval for their plant by spring. The final steps were taken as the project won a last-minute reprieve from a preliminary recommendation that the California Energy Commission (CEC) reject the proposal, which was the first of what are now more than two dozen merchant power plant proposals pending.

"The High Desert (two-member) committee filed a proposed decision in December recommending that the project not be approved," said the CEC's Roger Johnson, siting program manager. "The applicant subsequently has filed more information and there is a hearing later this month (Feb. 18). Whether the committee will change its recommendation is unknown."

The joint venture sponsors of the project - a Baltimore Gas and Electric affiliate, Constellation Power Development and Newport Beach, CA-based Inland Energy - think there should be no doubt the project will get the go-ahead by the end of March and become the fourth merchant power plant to gain state approval. Construction on the $400 million, 700-megawatt combined-cycle gas-fired plant would begin in the summer.

Despite being the first one in California out of the box with a formal application before the state authorities in 1997, High Desert subsequently agreed to have the project delayed for an undetermined amount of time because it wanted to make substantial changes in its fuel supply infrastructure. It added a 30-mile, 24-inch-diameter pipeline to be built north of the plant to connect with both Kern/Mojave and PG&E Interstate Transmission pipelines. Along with connections to a nearby Southern California Gas transmission pipeline south of the plant, this gives the project more fuel flexibility than any of the other proposed merchant plants in the state.

Welch said High Desert has an agreement with the local gas distributor in the area, Southwest Gas Corp., to build and operate the two natural gas supply pipelines, and after the plant is approved and under construction, the joint venture will begin shopping for gas supplies, presumably through a part of Constellation. The plant will use in the range of 100 to 120 MMcf/d.

Richard Nemec, Los Angeles

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