Utility confident of plant despite fire

HUMBOLDT BAY, CALIFORNIA - Pacific Gas and Electric Co. says it has no reason to believe that any of its new Humboldt Bay power plant generating units have problems similar to one that caught fire, or another that shut down just as it was brought online in September.

The utility is investigating the fire that started at about 2:10 p.m. at its King Salmon plant and was quickly put out by firefighters from Humboldt Fire District No. 1 and the Eureka Fire Department. PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said that two of the plant's 10 generators were running at the time of the fire. The facility was shut down and natural gas shut off while firefighters worked the blaze, but was brought back on line at 6 p.m.

Ehlers said the company doesn't believe the other units are operating with similar problems.

”We are confident that the facility will maintain its intended function,” Ehlers wrote in an e-mail, “to efficiently serve the community's demand.”

Ehlers said the investigation is likely to take a while.

The Humboldt Fire District said that preliminary damage estimates by PG&E personnel are between $10 million and $20 million — a figure Ehlers said she could not confirm.

The unit is the second to go down since PG&E started up its new power plant in September. One generator crashed immediately due to a manufacturing problem that Ehlers did not specify. Ehlers said that the problem occurred during the plant's commissioning period and that the generator was replaced by the contractor at no cost to PG&E. She said PG&E did not notify the public about the problem because there was no public safety threat.

The plant has 10 natural gas-fired Wartsila engines that can produce up to 163 megawatts of power. It is meant to respond to demand, increasing or decreasing the number of units online as needed. The plant has replaced two other natural gas units, which are now being decommissioned.

Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith said that PG&E did well about communicating the problem. He said he'll wait to hear about the cause of the fire, but expects the engine is severely damaged. Smith said at this point he's not overly concerned about the plant's overall reliability given the two units' failures.

”I know that if they are unrelated, it makes me feel better,” Smith said.


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