Power plant faces millions in extra costs, time in court

VICTORVILLE, CALIFORNIA - Though the Victorville 2 power plant has been given a conditional green light from the state, the project still faces hurdles that may include millions in additional costs and time in court.

Many of the issues will be hammered out during a public hearing by the California Energy Commission. The biggest point of contention is the CEC's recommendation that the developers replace the land they'll use for the plant with three times the acreage, to be preserved as a habitat for protected species.

"We don't agree with that determination on scientific grounds," said Tom Barnett, who is overseeing the project as executive vice president with developer Inland Energy. "We don't think it's warranted."

If the recommendation is upheld, Barnett said the city will have to spend at least $2 million to buy nearly 1,000 acres, rather than the 275 the project will occupy.

Still, Barnett said they're willing to consider the request. He said it's more important to move forward with the project in a timely manner than to spend time fighting the issue in court. The developers have also been asked to come up with a plan to relocate protected animals found on the property, including the desert tortoise, the Mojave ground squirrel and the burrowing owl.

"It's getting harder and harder to find suitable vacant land to dedicate," Barnett said, "particularly when you need a large block." While there's still some uncertainty where the animals will go, Barnett said the translocation plan already submitted should be acceptable.

Barnett doesn't anticipate construction will be held up by restrictions on when desert tortoises can be moved because of the summer heat. He said they only found evidence of two or three tortoises when the site was surveyed two years ago, and all were in the northern portion of the property. He hopes they will be able to fence the area off and start construction in the southern portion as planned this summer.

The city is also awaiting approval from Federal Aviation Administration to ensure exhaust stacks from the planned heat-recovery system generators won't be a hazard to air navigation at the nearby airport.

Barnett said the FAA is still reviewing the height of the stacks, but that there's been no indication the project won't be approved by the end of April. The final obstacle VV2 faces is a lawsuit pending between the environmental group CURE and the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District.

The suit challenges a rule that the air district adopted in August allowing developers to offset polluting emissions by paving unpaved public roads - a rule VV2 plans to take advantage of.

"VV2 is the first opportunity for that rule to come into play," said Violette Roberts with the AQMD. The AQMD's rule provides a formula for quantifying the number of credits developers can get through paving certain roads, Roberts said, considering such factors as how heavily traveled the road is and its speed surface.

With 5,000 miles of unpaved roads in the High Desert, Roberts said the resulting dust accounts for 61 percent of air pollutants. Barnett said it hasn't yet been determined exactly which roads will be paved to offset emissions from VV2, though he said it will likely be close to the plant. He said they should have exact locations within 30 days to get their permits for construction.

Barnett said there's always concern over lawsuits and the impact they can have on a project. "Our lawyers feel the challenge is without merit and that ultimately, if the case has to be played out in court, we'll win," he said. Overall, Barnett called the hurdles minor issues. He said the development of VV2 has gone very smoothly and has moved forward as expected.


in Year