State hearings began this week in Sacramento on what could bethe first of more than a dozen new natural gas-fired merchant powerplants built in California in the first years of the next century.A 500 MW, $300 million electric power plant in northern California,the Sutter Power Project sponsored by San Jose, CA-based Calpine,is expected to complete public hearings before the CaliforniaEnergy Commission (CEC) before Thanksgiving, gain a proposeddecision by late December and a final approval for construction inMarch 1999, according to Roger Johnson, CEC siting program manager.

Pre-construction and construction work are expected to take upto two years, putting start-up of the new plant in the spring of2001, Johnson said. Three other projects totaling more than 2,200MW and $1.1 billion collectively are undergoing data requests andanalysis at the CEC, prior to hearings being set next year.

In addition, Sempra Energy and Occidental Petroleum are thelatest to indicate to the CEC, according to Johnson, that they havea formal partnership to build a 500 MW power plant nearOccidental’s Elk Hills oil and gas supplies in the southern SanJoaquin Valley. The Sempra-Oxy proposal is among five on the CEC’s”anticipated” listing that have indicated they will make formalapplications to the state by February 1999, Johnson said.

In total, there are four proposals-including Calpine’s SutterProject-that have filed with the CEC and another nine that are onthe pending list. Johnson said the CEC has met with proponents foranother 16 proposed merchant plants, but how many of those get tothe formal proposal stage is anyone’s guess.

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