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PRESIDING MEMBER'S PROPOSED DECISION
APPLICATION FOR CERTIFICATION FOR THE
SUTTER POWER PLANT PROJECT
DOCKET NO. 97-AFC-2
JANUARY 1999

Publication Number: P800-99-004



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This Presiding Members Proposed Decision (PMPD) contains the recommendations of the Energy Commission's designated Committee on whether the Commission should approve the application for the Sutter Power Plant Project (SPP). Based on the Committee's independent evaluation of the evidence presented at public hearings, the Committee has found that with the implementation of all mitigation measures and the more than 165 Conditions of Certification contained in this document, the SPP will not impose a significant adverse impact on the environment. It has also found that the project is in conformance with Commission electricity demand requirements. The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission approve the Application for Certification (AFC) for the project. However, because the SPP is proposed for construction in an agricultural-zoned parcel, this recommendation is conditioned upon future Sutter County Board of Supervisors' approval of the Applicant's request for a general plan amendment and rezone for the project site. Without such approval, the SPP fails to comply with all applicable laws, ordinance, regulations and standards, as required by law. The recommendation is also conditioned upon the Applicant submitting evidence of permission to cross the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge with the project's natural gas fuel pipeline. If these two conditions are not met, the Application cannot gain final certification under the terms of this document.

Calpine Corporation (Calpine) proposes to construct, own and operate the SPP, a 500 megawatt (MW) natural gas fueled, combined cycle, electric generation facility. The SPP will be located adjacent to Calpine's existing Greenleaf Unit 1, a 49.5 MW natural gas fueled cogeneration power plant. The site is located approximately seven miles southwest of Yuba City, on South Township Road near the intersection with Best Road. The SPP will comprise approximately 16 acres of Calpine's existing 77-acre parcel.

Additional project facilities include a 4 mile, 230 kilovolt (kV), overhead electric transmission line that would be built from the plant to a new switching station, and a new 14.9 mile natural gas pipeline that will be constructed to provide fuel for the project. Dry-cooling technology will eliminate the need for large quantities of cooling water and an on-site well will provide potable water for the project. Sanitary waste will be treated by an on-site sewage treatment system. All other waste generated in the operation of the plant and any effluent will be treated and removed from the site, thus resulting in a "zero discharge" facility.

The SPP and related facilities such as the electric transmission line, switching station and natural gas line are under Energy Commission jurisdiction. (Pub. Resources Code 25500 et seq.) When issuing a license, the Energy Commission acts as lead state agency (Pub. Resources Code 25519(c)) under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000 et seq.), and its process is functionally equivalent to the preparation of an environmental impact report. (Pub. Resources Code, 21080.5.)

The project is also under the jurisdiction of the Western Area Power Administration (Western) because it will interconnect with Western's transmission system. Western operates and maintains an extensive, integrated and complex high-voltage power transmission system to deliver reliable electric power to most of the western half of the United States. As a major transmission owner, Western provides access to its transmission system when feasible, providing there is sufficient capacity. The agency has determined that this project will help to support and improve area transmission reliability by increasing voltage support for the Sacramento region.

During the Energy Commission siting process the Commission and Western have worked closely together to ensure a thorough environmental review of the project in the most efficient manner possible. As the lead federal agency for the project and for any transmission interconnection of the SPP, Western must carry out federal environmental impact analysis similar to that done by the Energy Commission. Therefore, the staffs of Western and the Energy Commission agreed to combine their processes for environmental review of the SPP. Through their coordinated efforts, the two agencies assured that all elements of both the federal and the state environmental review requirements were addressed in the Final Staff Assessment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The combined document, released on October 22, 1998, expedited this coordinated review process and provided a more cohesive public comment period.

The Energy Commission has also maintained a close working relationship with Sutter County officials. Sutter County staff and officials have participated in all workshops and hearings. Furthermore, Sutter County staff made use of the environmental review from the Energy Commission's process in preparing its recommendation to the Sutter County Planning Commission. On November 12, 1998, the county Community Services Department submitted a report to the Sutter County Planning Commission which recommended approval of Calpine's request to amend the General Plan land use designation on the 77 acre parcel proposed for the SPP site from Ag-20 and Ag-80 to Industrial and to change the zoning district of the property from AG to M-2PD.1 On December 2, 1998, the Planning Commission considered the Calpine applications and recommended to the Sutter County Board of Supervisors that it deny both applications because they were inconsistent with the General Plan. Calpine has appealed their amendment and rezoning request to the Board of Supervisors. It is anticipated that the Board will address the matter shortly after the Energy Commission adopts its Decision.

The Commission staff also consulted all other affected federal, state, regional, and local governmental agencies as part of the review process.

In addition, the Commission received valuable input from two active intervenors in the process. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), is a coalition of unions whose members build, operate and maintain power plants. CURE's participation focused on potential air and water quality environmental impacts and potential socioeconomic benefits of the project. Once its environmental concerns were addressed, through the addition to the project of major air and water quality mitigation measures, CURE supported the project. The Yuba-Sutter Farm bureau also intervened. While many local farmers participated actively throughout the process, it was not until late in the evidentiary hearings that the Farm Bureau sought formal intervention in order to better represent growers who live near the plant site. The Farm Bureau's primary areas of concern involved: land-use, visual resources, air quality, biological resources, socioeconomic issues, transmission lines, and project alternatives. Farm Bureau representatives generally opposed the project and cross-examined other parties' {1} witnesses. However, they presented no testimony in support of their position.

By the time of the evidentiary hearings, the Commission's siting process had incorporated numerous mitigation measures which in the view of the Applicant, the Commission staff, Western, Sutter County Staff, and CURE, reduced significant impacts of the project to insignificant levels. One exception was the Commission staff position that, even after including all possible mitigation measures, the project would still impose significant impacts upon visual resources. However, after weighing the evidence, the Committee found the Commission staff's position on significant visual impacts to be unpersuasive. Like staff, the Farm Bureau believes the project will impose significant visual impacts. Once the Farm Bureau intervened, they raised numerous other objections to the project.

Ken Corbin, the Air Pollution Control Official for the Feather River Air Quality Management Distinct (FRAQMD), introduced the Final Determination of Compliance (DOC) submitted by the air district. He noted that the district had worked with the Energy Commission staff, the Air Resources Board and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for several months in order to craft a determination of compliance which would meet all of the district's requirements. FRAQMD issued its DOC on November 13, 1998, and received very few comments. Mr. Corbin approved of the Conditions of Certification proposed in the Commission staff testimony. He also testified that the Applicant had proposed a complete offset package and that the Applicant's designated emission reduction credits (ERC) would all be available prior to any final Decision by the Commission. Mr. Corbin addressed the amount of ERCs that would be available to the county for future development after the SPP uses its required increment. He noted that, "...if those [ERCs] were all made available to another applicant, there would be sufficient credits for another project of this [SPP] size."

The Committee's analysis of land use impacts for the Sutter Power Project focused on two main issues: 1) the conformity of the project with local land use plans, ordinances and policies; and, 2) the potential of the proposed project to have direct, indirect, and cumulative land use conflicts with existing and planned uses. As noted, the site does not now conform with local land use plans. Therefore, the project includes a proposal to Sutter County for a zoning change from AG (agricultural) to M-2 PD (General Industrial Combining Planned Development District) and a general plan amendment from Agriculture 80-acre minimum to Industrial.

Since the Sutter County Board of Supervisors intends to rely upon the document adopted by the Energy Commission as the county's environmental documentation for the project, the Board will not take up the Calpine appeal until after the Energy Commission makes its Decision. However, only the Sutter County Supervisors can decide whether or not to amend the county General Plan and rezone the parcel. The Energy Commission has no role in that decision.

We have, however, addressed the likely direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on land use which could occur if the project is constructed and operated. The record demonstrates that the SPP will not have significant direct impacts on local land uses. The 77 acre parcel for the proposed project is not now in agricultural use and has not been since 1984. While the switching station proposed on the south side of O'Banion Road may displace some agriculture, the evidence shows that no more than two acres would be lost. The project transmission line is unlikely to directly impact agriculture. Even if preferred easements along existing rights-of-way are not available, the worst case direct impacts to local farming are still insignificant. Direct impacts to affected crop duster landing strips will be fully mitigated by relocating the strips.

Indirect land use impacts include the affects of the transmission line on agricultural operations, including crop dusting and ground equipment use. The evidence demonstrates that by undergrounding the existing 12 kV line on O'Banion Road, by using steel tubular rather than lattice-style towers, and by locating the transmission line along existing roads and out of the fields, the line's indirect impacts will be mitigated to an insignificant level.

The Commission staff witness on biological resources testified that the project is not inconsistent with the primary use of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. Furthermore, both the Commission biologist and the California Department of Fish and Game have evaluated the potential impacts of the project on wildlife and in particular impacts to special status species. Both have found that the project's mitigation measures will reduce impacts to insignificant levels. Therefore, we have found that the project will not have a significant adverse effect on local wildlife habitat land uses such as the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.

Nor is the SPP likely to impose significant cumulative effects on land use. As indicated above, individual impacts to agriculture will be mitigated to insignificant levels. The cumulative effect of adding these resultant impacts to the land use impacts of the Greenleaf 1 plant do not create a significant cumulative impact. Furthermore, it appears to the Committee that local concerns about the SPP being a "key way" for further industrial development in the area are misplaced. As demonstrated by various witnesses, the proposed project lacks the kinds of linkages to other industrial and commercial uses that would make the area attractive to those uses.

The record establishes that the proposed project has been designed, and redesigned, to minimize visual impacts. Calpine has proposed a number of its own measures and has agreed to additional mitigation measures recommended by the Commission staff. The plant itself will have controlled lighting and will be surrounded by a landscaped berm. Plant structures will be painted in dull, low contrast colors and dry cooling will eliminate any visible steam plume. Transmission line impact mitigation measures, including the dulling of reflective metal surfaces, placement to avoid view obstruction at residences, and the use of non-specular conductors will reduce visual impacts to the maximum extent feasible.

In addition, both Commission staff and Calpine have put considerable effort into examining additional mitigation measures which ultimately proved not to be feasible. {2} The record establishes that a number of feasible mitigation measures have been included to reduce visual impacts while others have been analyzed and rejected as infeasible. The Conditions of Certification impose all feasible mitigation capable of reducing the visual impacts of the project.

Yet even with the imposition of the mitigation measures contained in the Conditions of Certification, the transmission line will likely intrude upon views of the Sutter Buttes from the residence at 3936 O'Banion Road, near the intersection of O'Banion Road. A small number of additional residences will have their views of the Sutter Buttes impacted to a lesser degree. The transmission line will also intrude upon the views of the Sutter Buttes for north-bound drivers on South Township Road. Yet the evidence shows that north-bound drivers on South Township Road are relatively few in number.

We conclude that the project has been designed to be as visually unobtrusive as possible and that it will not create any significant adverse visual impacts as defined under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The potential impacts of the project on local biological resources was also closely examined. Calpine's decision to change from wet cooling towers to a dry air condenser substantially reduced the potential for biological impacts from the SPP. This change: 1) eliminates impacts to aquatic biota from wastewater discharge in the field drains and Sutter Bypass; 2) eliminates impacts to the wetlands and surrounding vegetation from cooling tower drift; and 3) reduces the potential for avian collisions with the project's stacks. The evidence also established the amount of habitat affected by the project and the amount of compensatory habitat required from the Applicant to mitigate the habitat lost.

Habitat mitigation for the Swainson's hawk has been determined by wildlife experts who are charged with protecting such habitat. The Commission has properly relied upon their determination that adequate compensatory habitat is being provided by Calpine. Likewise, we rely on expert biologists to recommend mitigation measures which will significantly reduce bird mortality from collision with transmission line conductors. While the project's transmission line is likely to result in some bird deaths, the evidence demonstrates that the losses will not be significant.

The record does not yet include an official expression from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granting its permission for the project pipeline to be built within the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. This matter must be addressed in order for the Commission to make the affirmative findings required by the Commission's regulations. (20 Cal. Code of Regs., 1752(g)(3).)

We conclude that the Sutter Power Plant will not result in any significant adverse impacts to biological resources, and is consistent with the primary land use of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.

The Committee has also determined that the project will not impose any significant erosion or sedimentation impacts. Furthermore, with its design change to dry cooling and to retain floodwaters on site, the project will not impose significant adverse impacts upon the local water supply, wastewater discharge systems, or upon local drainage or flooding.

Regarding the protection of cultural resources, the Applicant, staff from Western, and from the Commission have all recommended Conditions of Certification that would ensure the mitigation of impacts if previously unknown cultural resources are encountered during project construction. Critical to the success of any mitigation efforts is the selection of a qualified professional cultural resources specialist. The Conditions of Certification require that Western and the Commission staff review the qualifications and approve of the professional archaeologist designated by the project owner. In addition, Commission staff has proposed contingency mitigation measures which are to be implemented if sensitive cultural resources are encountered in any area affected by the project, during pre-construction site preparation or in such activities as coring, boring, augering, excavation, and trenching during project construction. A six-point cultural resource monitoring program is proposed for use in the natural river levee zone.

The Committee has also determined that the SPP can be added to the existing electrical transmission system without causing reliability problems. In fact, the project improves area reliability. It also meets all relevant design criteria. While the possibility of undergrounding the project's 230 kV transmission line was explored, it proved to be infeasible. Ultimately, the Township-O'Banion Road transmission line route poses the fewest environmental impacts among the feasible alternatives.

Finally, this document represents the Committee's independent and careful analysis of the evidentiary record of the proceeding as well as all testimony filed by the various parties and all closing briefs and comments. With the notable exceptions of the general plan amendment and rezone, as well as permission to cross the Sutter National Wildlife refuge, the Committee has determined that the SPP has met the many tests which the law provides for such a project, including the mitigation of potential environmental impacts and conformance with the demand for electricity identified by the Commission. These tests are detailed in this document.

Therefore, we conclude that if Calpine can meet the remaining two requirements, the SPP will impose no significant impact on the environment and will comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations and standards.



ENDNOTES

  1. General Plan Amendment No. 97-04 and Rezone No. 97-07.

  2. An example of this is the proposal for undergrounding the power plant's 230 kV transmission line. All of the alternatives which might reduce the visual impacts of the transmission line are discussed in the section on Transmission System Engineering.






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