EPA Won't Block Permit for Palmdale Power Plant

Artist's conception of the Palmdale Hybrid Power Project | California Energy Commission

A planned $950 million, 570-megawatt solar-gas hybrid power plant proposed by the city of Palmdale passed a legal hurdle this week, as the EPA announced it would not be reviewing the plant's permit in the face of a legal challenge. The Palmdale Hybrid Power Project, which would be sited on 333 acres of land near the Palmdale airport, would obtain 50 megawatts of its total generating capacity from a 250-acre parabolic trough concentrating solar array. The remaining 520-megawatts would be generated by burning natural gas, which is what triggered the EPA's air quality impact review. The decision puts the project closer to groundbreaking, with a planned start of operation in the summer of 2013.

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Under the Clean Air Act, any proposed facility that could increase air pollution in a county that fails to meet air quality standards must get what's called a "Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality permit" (PSD) under the occasionally controversial New Source Review process.

Palmdale is in northern Los Angeles County, which is a federal air quality "non-attainment" area. EPA granted the Palmdale Hybrid project such a permit in October 2011, but that decision was formally challenged by Hayward resident Rob Simpson in November. Simpson's petition claimed the EPA had improperly failed to extend the comment period after his request that they do so, and further that the EPA failed to fully consider best available control technology for CO2 emissions.

The EPA's decision this week not to review the permit was based on the agency's finding that Simpson hadn't made his case sufficiently.

One topic not covered in Simpson's arguments: whether it's really accurate to call the proposal a "hybrid" project when it will derive less than 10% of its power from solar.

The city of Palmdale must now nail down a contractor and a power purchase agreement. The Southern California Gas company has agreed to supply the plant and will build new gas pipelines in order to do so.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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The permit was issued 8 hours before the Federal emission standards changed to protect public health. The City was on Notice, for at least a year, that the new standards were planned to protect public health. Instead of complying with the new standards and protecting public health; the City chose to slip the permit in before the rules changed. Instead of mitigating some of the pollution impacts; the city chose to buy pollution credits from Tracy California. The City commented on its own permit during the public comment period and convinced the EPA to allow a 77% increase in emissions over what was disclosed to the public. The technology chosen by the city nearly a decade ago, when they planned this facility is antiquated. Instead of, presently lower cost, photo voltaic panels that would generate electricity every day; the solar thermal preheaters chosen will only function when the gas plant is operating. Since other facilities have been built there is no longer demand for the electricity from the facility, which is enough to power 5 cities the size of Palmdale. Your lights are on right? If built, it will rarely operate and probably never operate at a high enough rate to utilize the solar. The EPA decision to ignore all this merely cleared the administrative hurdles before I can take the matter to court. The City only needed to consider present technology and none of this would have been necessary.
Rob Simpson