Western Midway Sunset Power Project, Docket No. 99-AFC-9
(Midway Sunset II)
Application for Certification granted on March 21, 2001
Project Manager: Jack Caswell
Staff Counsel: David Mundstock
Hearing Officer: Major Williams, Jr.
Presiding Member: Robert Pernell
AFC filing and data adequacy.
Western Midway Sunset Cogeneration Company filed its AFC for a nominal 500 MW natural gas-fired combined cycle project on December 22, 1999. The location was the western oil fields of Kern County, directly adjacent to the original Midway Sunset project licensed by the Energy Commission in 1987, Docket No. 85-AFC-3. Among the armada of AFCs submitted after de-regulation, this was the first one to propose what was essentially expansion of an existing facility. This approach took full advantage of current infrastructure and Energy Commission familiarity with the site. The project was initially found data inadequate on February 9, 2000. Following supplemental submittals, the Commission declared it complete on March 8, 2000.
In spite of the applicant's company name containing the word "Cogeneration", the new Midway Sunset project, unlike its predecessor, was not a cogeneration project. Midway Sunset, as a conventional merchant plant, would only generate electricity, providing no steam for oil recovery. Its oilfield location was ideal, with no close residential neighbors. Other large contemporary AFC applications were in the general oilfield vicinity, including Sunrise (Docket No. 98-AFC-4), La Paloma (Docket No. 98-AFC-2), and Elk Hills (Docket No. 99-AFC-1). As in the 1980s, Kern County was again proving to be a bountiful source for large powerplants that could be licensed with relatively little difficulty. All these powerplants would transmit their electricity through the Midway Substation in Buttonwillow. This possible bottleneck would not develop into an issue. Midway Sunset's water supply was from the Western Kern Water District, by way of a new 1.8-mile pipeline.
Midway Sunset, under the leadership of Ed Western, was extremely professional and adept at problem solving. The case generated no actual issues with either staff or intervenors. CURE intervened, but remained inactive, unlike its serious efforts in Elk Hills and Sunrise.
The San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District delayed issuance of both its Preliminary and Final Determination of Compliance (DOC), which impacted the case schedule, but caused no air quality controversies.
Biology - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the major impediment to progress in this proceeding. A minor transmission line segment required a Federal biological opinion, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife refused to prepare. Their inaction over a period of several months greatly annoyed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a fellow Department of the Interior Federal agency, that had requested the biological opinion as part of a legally required consultation.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife was insisting upon data from the Energy Commission regarding indirect, growth-inducing impacts to endangered species that might be caused from electricity generated by the Midway Sunset project. However, such data did not and could not exist, because it was impossible to know exactly where electricity from a particular powerplant will travel. Even if more electricity induced development (a matter of speculation), it was also impossible to ascertain impacts to particular species at remote locations and then require mitigation fees for such theoretical impacts from a powerplant developer. Yet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife declared it would not move forward with the biological opinion until its data demands were met, including a set of questions to the Energy Commission.
The Energy Commission Staff explained powerplant realities to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a marathon meeting in Sacramento on August 1, 2000. We answered all questions and provided them with more information than most Energy Commissioners receive. After several hours of diplomatic efforts on our part, U.S. Fish and Wildlife accepted the CEC position and agreed to begin work on the biological opinion. The opinion would still be late, but at least the deadlock had been broken. Biological issues related to the Midway Sunset project itself could now easily be resolved among the various agencies.
The Committee required virtually no witnesses to testify from either staff or applicant, as testimony was provided by declaration in writing. All Committee hearings were extremely brief. The Presiding Member's Proposed Decision recommending certification was unanimously adopted by the Energy Commission at the March 21, 2001 Business Meeting. Licensing had nearly been completed within the one- year statutory timeframe. The air district's tardy DOC had extended the schedule.
Construction has not yet commenced on Midway Sunset due to ownership and financing problems. Everything is "on hold". The Energy Commission now labels the completion date as "Unknown", replacing earlier hopes for July 2004 and then March 2006. Midway Sunset thus becomes another example of a facility that, although licensed by the Energy Commission, suffers lengthy, unpredictable construction delays related to financing.