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Community News

Meeting Report
Calpine Power Plant Proposal Advisory Committee
Southside Community Center
June 17, 1999

Reported and written by Steven Nelson

This was the first meeting of the Calpine Power Plant Advisory Committee convened by District 2 Councilmember Charlotte Powers. The meeting started at 7:00 PM with the members of the advisory committee sitting up on the stage at the front of the multi-purpose room at the Southside Community Center. Approximately 70 people were in the audience. County Supervisor Don Gage opened the meeting, explaining that Councilmember Powers could not attend the meeting because she had to attend a graduation ceremony. Supervisor Gage put forward the agenda for the evening:

The Supervisor asked members of the audience to refrain from asking questions during the presentations in the interest of keeping to the schedule for the evening, which called for the meeting to end at 9:00 PM. Only members of the advisory committee would be given the opportunity to ask questions after each presentation. He said there would be time at the end of the meeting for members of the audience to ask questions.

As the meeting progressed it became obvious that many in the audience did not want to wait until the end of the meeting to ask questions so Supervisor Gage allowed a limited number of questions during and after each presentation, giving priority to the member of the advisory committee.

About 2/3 of the way through the meeting Supervisor Gage announced he must leave early so Kent Edens from the San Jose Planning Department was assigned as the moderator at that time.

San Jose Planning Department

Kent Edens from the San Jose Planning Department gave a presentation regarding the zoning issues for the proposed Metcalf Energy Center. Part of the land for the proposed Metcalf Energy Center is under the jurisdiction of the County so the City of San Jose must annex the land from the County. The City's General Plan designates the remainder of the site as Campus Industrial, a zoning designation that does not allow the proposed Metcalf Energy Center to be built. The City decided in 1983 to zone the Northern part of Coyote Valley Campus Industrial and today it is the last area in San Jose with acreage for large, single user campuses. Calpine has submitted a request to the City of San Jose to change the zoning in the General Plan for the proposed site from Campus Industrial to Public/Quasi Public. The Public/Quasi Public zoning designation is used for schools, government offices, water treatment plants, and public utilities. The City Planning Department will study the request and make a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council would then vote on Calpine's request for the General Plan change.

One of the City's requirements for such a change is an environmental impact report. Since the CEC is examining many of the same issues that would be part of the City's environmental impact report, the City is considering using the CEC's report instead. The issue with using the CEC's report as the City's environmental impact report is the timing as the San Jose City Council is currently planning to take up the General Plan changes for the proposed Metcalf Energy Center in October/November of this year. The City is not sure whether or not the CEC's report will be ready at the required time so they are examining their options to delay the process as was done during the approval for the Sutter Power Plant.

Mr. Edens said he is neutral to the project so far because he needs to study the issues related to the proposed change to the General Plan.

In response to questions from an audience member, Mr. Edens explained that the City's evaluation process of the request to change the General Plan would not be limited to just the CEC's report. He said the City would investigate many other issues not covered by the CEC's report to determine if this change of the General Plan makes sense for the City of San Jose.

California Energy Commission

The first presentation by a member of the CEC discussed deregulation, how the State is creating a more open market for companies such as Calpine to build power plants to sell electricity. The California ISO is charged with overseeing this new energy marketplace.

The next presentation was given by Lorraine White of the CEC, the project manager for Metcalf Energy Center Project. She explained details of the process, how meetings are conducted, and emphasized everything that is done by the CEC to make the process open to the public. One of the tasks of the CEC is to determine if the proposed Metcalf Energy Center is actually needed. Roberta Mendoca, the public advisor, then explained her role in helping the public with cases before the CEC. She encouraged members of the audience to contact her if they had any questions. Her contact information is:

Public Adviser
Roberta Mendonca
1516 Ninth Street, MS
Sacramento, CA 95814
E-Mail: PAO@energy.state.ca.us
Phone: 800-822-6228 (Calif. only)
or 916-654-4489

The CEC allows members of the public to apply to become Intervenors in the certification process. Intervenors are allowed to present evidence and witnesses along with cross-examining other witnesses.

Another member of the CEC gave a presentation that outlined how the CEC makes the final decision to certify a power plant. The CEC has five commissioners appointed by the Governor of the State of California to staggered five-year terms. The commissioners must come from and represent specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large. Of the five commissions currently serving, four are Republicans and one is a Democrat. Two commissioners from the CEC will be assigned to the Metcalf Energy Center Project to make the final decision to certify the plant or not. The two commissioners assigned to the Metcalf Energy Center project will look at all the evidence presented in the AFC along with information generated by the CEC staff to make their decision. Once the decision is made there is an appeals process that eventually leads up to the State Supreme Court.

There were questions from the audience regarding the process, asking how an average citizen could have much of an impact on the final decision of the CEC. A contradiction was seen in that on the one hand the CEC claims to be open to citizen participation yet on the other the process is much like a legal proceeding, following the rule of law. The question still remains whether or not a process open to public participation is a process that can be influenced by public participation. The CEC did explain that not every application to build a power plant has been approved but they did not explain the reasons why.

Calpine

Ken Abreu with help from Lisa Poelle presented an overview of the proposed Metcalf Energy Center, describing its design, location, and benefits. The original schedule allowed for a 25-minute presentation but the meeting was running late so the presentation was limited to 10-15 minutes. Calpine said the proposed location is ideal because it provides access to transmission lines, a large natural gas pipeline, and recycled water from the San Jose sewage treatment plant when the City builds out the supply lines to the Coyote Valley.

Calpine mentioned in the presentation they would like to be a good citizen so they have made and are planning to make contributions to local groups. One advisory member asked Calpine for more information about these donations. Calpine said they have already donated money to the Morgan Hill School district and they have been asking the groups attending their community meetings about other community needs.

Question and Answers

After the final presentation it was nearly 9:00 PM and many members of the advisory committee looked anxious to leave. The moderator at this point, Ken Edens, said there was very little time left for questions which prompted an angry response from some members of the audience to demand the time for questions that was promised at the beginning of the meeting. A few questions were asked but at this point the moderator seemed quite hurried to conclude the meeting. One member of the advisory committee explained he had to leave because he had to get up early the next morning. The moderator set the tentative date for the next meeting as Thursday, August 26 and said the next meeting would have a large block of time devoted to questions from the audience.

Additional Issues

There were complaints from the audience that the meeting was not widely publicized and suggestions for the City to do a better job publicizing the next meeting.

At one point in the meeting a member of the audience asked why Elizabeth Cord of the Santa Teresa Action Group was not on the advisory committee, replaced at the last minute by Jeff Dixon who is not considered a core member of the group. The audience member charged that Lisa Poelle of Calpine, a former aide to Councilmember Powers, made a request to Councilmember Powers' office to have Elizabeth Cord removed from the committee. This charge was not resolved at the meeting.

One member of the audience wanted to know the key decision-makers in the City. Mr Edens replied the City's decision would come down to six Councilmembers voting one way or the other. The Councilmembers are free to disregard any recommendations from the San Jose Planning Department.

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