Blythe Energy Power Plant Project (Blythe), Docket No. 99-AFC-8
Certification granted March 21, 2001.
Project Manager: Lance Shaw
Staff Counsel: Lisa DeCarlo
Hearing Officer: Ed Bouillon
Presiding Member: Chairman William Keese
AFC Filing, Data Adequacy, and Project Description
Blythe Energy filed their Application for Certification (AFC) for the nominal 520 megawatt, base-load, natural gas-fired, combined cycle Blythe Energy Power Plant Project on December 9, 1999. The projectís location was five miles west of downtown Blythe, in Riverside County, on vacant agricultural land. The site was incorporated into the City of Blythe, which supported the plant and granted it a land use variance for height. The plantís water supply would be on-site wells. The Energy Commission originally found the AFC to be data inadequate on January 26, 2000. After two supplementary filings, the Commission determined Blythe to be data adequate on March 22, 2000. The AFC would later be certified at precisely the one-year statutory deadline.
Issues - Water
There were some local concerns about Blytheís environmental impacts, but only one person intervened to express them. Following certification, an unsuccessful lawsuit was filed against the project.
Blytheís proposed water use of 3,000 acre-feet per year through a conventional wet cooling system drew the most scrutiny. In an area with no surface water, the projectís wells would tap so much groundwater as to potentially disturb or contaminate the water supply of existing neighboring wells. This problem was extensively studied by CEC staff. Wastewater discharge to large evaporation ponds caused additional pollution concerns. Proximity to the Colorado River, (site of major water rights conflicts), and use of the Colorado River aquifer as the projectís groundwater source, intensified the need for more analysis of possible adverse impacts from Blythe.
Applicant rejected the dry cooling alternative as unnecessary and not cost effective. CEC staff once again raised the State Water Resources Control Board Policy 75-58, which had so confused and delayed the Elk Hills case, Docket No. 99-AFC-1, before being rejected as "non-binding" policy guidance. Use of fresh inland waters for powerplant cooling is dis-favored by the State Water Board in favor of other sources such as brackish water. Applicant claimed they would be pumping brackish water from Blytheís wells in conformance with that policy, but CEC staff did not agree that the water was "brackish" (salty, briny, or otherwise impure).
The Committee and Commission agreed with the applicant that expensive dry cooling was not a financially practical alternative for Blythe. Excluding the Colorado River itself (a far worse option), there were thus no other alternatives to the groundwater wells. Applicantís proposal to mitigate its water supply impacts by implementing a conservation program to discontinue irrigation use of 3,000 acre-feet per year (a water offset), won the support of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the local Palo Verde Irrigation District. These were the two agencies with general authority over Colorado River water problems in the area. The water saved would be the same amount consumed by the powerplant, for a theoretical elimination of water supply impacts. CEC staff was not convinced, arguing that applicant was seeking credit for water savings that had already occurred 20 years ago. However, the Committee and Commission accepted this conservation plan as satisfactory mitigation, together with additional conditions of certification to reimburse neighboring users for any damage the project may cause to their wells. Staff alternative mitigation measures were rejected.
Ultimately, the Committee and the Energy Commission determined that Blythe would comply with State Water Resources Control Board Policy 75-58 "whether it applies or not." (Page 207 of the CEC Decision.) The poor quality of the well water, combined with the proposed conservation program, established that Blythe would not cause any significant adverse environmental impacts by its use of inland waters. Costly dry cooling, including a hybrid wet/dry system, therefore was unnecessary and would not be imposed in the absence of adverse impacts from the project. The Energy Commission declared Blytheís proposed water supply plan to be acceptable.
The Committee and Commission reiterated their concerns regarding the use of scarce inland waters for powerplant cooling and hoped that continued examination of the issue by the CEC would provide clearer policy guidance to applicants in the future.
The Blythe Energy Power Plant Project was certified by the Energy Commission on March 21, 2001. An ineffective lawsuit was filed against the powerplant by two local opponents acting on their own without an attorney.
Florida Power and Light, a large investor-owned utility, purchased Blythe and commenced construction. The project was scheduled to be complete by April 2003. It became operational on July 15, 2003.