Cleaner electric plants remain California's objective

provided by California Energy Commission

report adopted by the California Energy Commission notes that the State has entered an era in which building a cleaner electric generation system with improved environmental performance has become the norm.

    According to the document, Environmental Performance Report of California's Electric Generation Facilities, builders over the years have developed new and less polluting power plants with improved environmental performance regarding air, water and biological resources. The report said total NOx emissions from power plants in California has dropped from 385 tons per day in 1975 to 79 tons a day in 2000.

    Since April 1999, the Energy Commission has licensed 16 new major power plants to be outfitted with the best available control technologies. Ten are under construction. Four plants will be up and running this summer. In addition, the Commission has also permitted 10 smaller “simple-cycle” plants under an Executive Order by Governor Gray Davis.

    The report said that, although power plant emissions have been reduced significantly, they are still important considerations in local air quality attainment strategies because they are often among the larger sources of emissions.

    The report stated that California's power plants continue to provide critical service in powering the state's economy and standard of living. It said that power plants had not altered the socioeconomic and demographic makeup of their host communities. In this connection, the report stressed that the Energy Commission found no significant “environmental justice” impacts in any of the 24 power plant projects it has approved since 1998.

    “Regardless of the environmental performance improvements noted in the report, power plants and related facilities, such as transmission lines and fuel supply lines, can result in significant adverse impacts as well as generate public controversy and opposition,” said Energy Commissioner Robert Laurie. “It is critical that such facilities be thoroughly evaluated, thoughtfully sited and properly mitigated.”

    Commissioner Laurie is Presiding Member of the Energy Commission's Energy Facility Siting and Environmental Protection policy committee, which oversaw the Environmental Performance Report's preparation.

    Senate Bill 110, authored by Senator Steve Peace, requires the Energy Commission, starting July 1, 2001, to assess the environmental performance and related impacts of California's electric generation facilities every two years, and to report its findings to the Governor and the Legislature.

    Among its key findings, the report stresses that:

  • Because their impact on limited local fresh water supplies can be significant, new power plants are increasing their use of alternative water supplies or dry cooling technologies.
  • Because new combustion turbine power plants are more efficient, use less land and water, and are not typically sited in sensitive biological resource areas, they cause less biological damage than older plants.
  • Although historically, older and less efficient power plants have been displaced or have reduced their operations, it is difficult to predict the extent and timing of future displacement due to market conditions, weather and other factors.

    Copies of the report Publication No. 700-00-001 are available on the Energy Commission's Web Site at Copies also can be purchased through the Energy Commission's Publications Office at (916) 654-5200 or by e-mail at