Department of Water Resources Bottle Rock Geothermal Project
Docket No. 79-AFC-4, Docket No. 78-NOI-7
Notice of Intention Decision on June 1, 1979
Certification Granted on November 5, 1980
AFC Staff Counsel: Lisa Trankley
Hearing Officers: Stan Valkosky, Ernesto Perez
Presiding Member: Chairman Rusty Schweickart
AFC Filing and Data Adequacy
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) filed its AFC for the 55 MW Bottle Rock Geothermal Project on July 27, 1979. Under the regulations then in effect, the Executive Director conditionally accepted the AFC on August 29, 1979. As a geothermal AFC, following an NOI, Bottle Rock was a nine month proceeding, including a separate Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The deadline was extended at applicant’s request.
Geysers Overview and Project Description
Geothermal power was the CEC’s most successful preferred technology during the late 1970s and early 1980s, with a total of twelve powerplants certified in the Geysers Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA) of Lake and Sonoma Counties, making it the world’s largest geothermal field. Geothermal, followed later by cogeneration, was the Energy Commission’s chosen alternative to the large coal and nuclear plants long favored by utilities.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) operated the State Water Project, pumping large quantities of water up and down the state. The pumping required a significant amount of electricity, which led DWR to the geysers in search of a clean energy source. However, PG&E and the municipal utilities had already acquired the best geothermal sites, leaving DWR with the least desirable sites from which to choose. DWR’s two geothermal plants, Bottle Rock and South Geysers (Docket No. 81-AFC-2), would both fail due to lack of adequate steam supplies.
The Bottle Rock site was located in a Lake County natural setting, north of the main geothermal field area, and not particularly close to any of the small communities in the geysers.
CEC staff and DWR worked closely together, arriving at common positions in all areas. Intervenors raised objections or proposed their own conditions, which led to a few minor contested issues.
In socioeconomics, DWR’s status as a state agency, exempt from local property taxes, became an issue. With geothermal development impacting its roads and schools, Lake County sought a condition of certification requiring DWR to pay the county a sum equivalent to the property taxes which a non-exempt geothermal facility would provide.
The Committee asked for a General Counsel legal opinion, which concluded that the Warren-Alquist Act did not authorize the CEC to impose upon a state agency the form of in lieu taxation requested by Lake County. (Appendix B and pages 22-23 of the CEC Decision.) The Committee agreed with the General Counsel that Lake County’s remedy was with the Legislature, not the CEC. (Page 23 of the CEC Decision.)
There was, however, an agreement between DWR and Lake County for applicant’s payment towards the cost of realigning and reconstructing Bottle Rock Road, which would be used by construction vehicles. (Pages 23-24 of the CEC Decision, and page 5, #31, of the Socioeconomics Findings, in Appendix F, Applicant/Staff Jointly-Sponsored Findings, Conclusions and Conditions.)
Intervenor Camp Beaverbrook objected to the impacts of heavy construction equipment upon its young campers, who walk along Bottle Rock Road. The parties all agreed to develop appropriate mitigation measures, such as flashing lights, signs and cross-walks, to alleviate Camp Beaverbrook’s concerns. (Pages 24-26 of the CEC Decision.)
Transmission Line Route
The Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) intervened to dispute the best interconnection route for DWR’s transmission tap line. DWR had chosen PG&E Geysers Unit 17 as its interconnection point, which would have prevented the proposed NCPA 1 geothermal plant from later connecting with Bottle Rock. The Committee chose not to interfere with the applicant’s carefully considered interconnection plans. (Pages 27-32 of the CEC Decision.)
Adoption, Collapse, and Possible Revival
The DWR Bottle Rock Geothermal Project unanimously received Commission certification at the November 5, 1980 Business Meeting.
Bottle Rock was constructed and began operating in February 1985. Steam supply, an issue which the CEC did not address (See DWR South Geysers, Docket No. 81-AFC-2), also became a critical problem for Bottle Rock. While South Geysers had insufficient steam to make completion of construction worthwhile, Bottle Rock had too little steam for the facility to continue generation. In late 1990, DWR suspended operation of the Bottle Rock project, and in April 1993, the Energy Commission approved an amendment modifying monitoring and reporting requirements in consideration of the plant’s shutdown status.
While Bottle Rock was shutdown, DWR kept trying to sell the facility as an alternative to permanent closure. A private buyer was finally found in 2001, and ownership transferred from DWR to the Bottle Rock Power Corporation. The new owner's attempt to revive the facility will pose a challenge for the Energy Commission, Lake County, and local residents. The powerplant has not operated for over a decade. The conditions of certification are more than twenty years old. Licensed at 55 MW, the steamfield was only capable of producing approximately 15 MW for DWR. Any plan to re-start Bottle Rock will be certain to raise unique issues.