California commission issues staff report on 553-MW Sonoran Energy Project

The California Energy Commission said in a Feb. 1 notice that its staff has prepared, and it is taking comment until March 1 on, a Preliminary Staff Assessment (PSA) for the proposed amendment for the Sonoran Energy Project (SEP), formerly the Blythe Energy Project Phase II (BEP II).

The Energy Commission staff is planning to hold a public workshop during February 2016. The workshop will be a forum to discuss the PSA with all stakeholders who are interested. Public comment will also be taken at the workshop. In the near future, the Energy Commission will issue public notices of the workshop date, time and location.

The SEP site is located within the city of Blythe, approximately five miles west of the city center, in eastern Riverside County, one mile east of the Blythe Airport. The SEP project owner proposes to modify the approved BEP II and change the name of the project to the Sonoran Energy Project. Other modifications proposed for the project include the following:

  • Define a new point of electrical interconnection via a 1,320-foot, 161-kV transmission line to the Western Area Power Administration’s Blythe substation located southeast of the project site via an existing transmission line located in the Southern California Edison (SCE) Buck Boulevard substation;
  • Replace the two Siemens SGT6-5000F combustion turbines with a single, more efficient General Electric (GE) Frame 7HA.02 combustion turbine;
  • Replace the Siemens steam turbine generator (STG) with a more efficient single-shaft GE D652 STG;
  • Increase the size of the auxiliary boiler to support the CTG’s rapid response fast start capability;
  • Decrease the size of cooling tower from an 11-cell to a 10-cell tower in response to the reduced heat rejection requirements;
  • Decrease the size of the emergency diesel fire pump engine; and
  • Optimize the general arrangement.

AltaGas Sonoran Energy Inc., the project owner, is proposing to update the project’s technology and design in an effort to construct a least-cost, best-fit project while taking into account the current energy market and environmental conditions. In 2005, the Energy Commission granted a license to Caithness Blythe II LLC to construct a nominal 520-MW combined-cycle BEP II. In 2012, an amendment to the license was approved by the Energy Commission to modify BEP II to be a nominal 569 MW combined-cycle facility.

This Jan. 29 PSA contains staff’s independent, objective evaluation of AltaGas’s Petition to Amend (PTA) that was was filed on Aug. 7, 2015. The proposed Sonoran Energy Project is a natural gas-fired, water-cooled, combined-cycle, 553-MW net facility.

The amendment petition proposes to change the combustion/turbine/steam turbine technologies since those being proposed were unavailable during the licensing of the project. Further, AltaGas acquired the SEP site license in May 2014 and has been working since that time on developing a project that will support the integration of renewables by providing efficient, fast-starting, fast-ramping, lower-minimum-operating-load, highly-efficient combined-cycle gas-fired generation that will utilize dry combustors and water treatment of cooling tower influent and share certain infrastructure with the existing, operational Blythe Energy project (BEP).

AltaGas Sonoran’s parent, Canada-based AltaGas Ltd., said in an August 2015 final prospectus related to a C$5 billion shelf offering of various stock and debt instruments: “AltaGas owns Blythe Energy Inc. (‘Blythe’), which owns Blythe Energy Center, a 507 MW natural gas-fired power plant, associated major spare parts and a related 230 kV 67-mile electric transmission line in southern California. Blythe is fully contracted under a PPA with Southern California Edison Company until July 31, 2020, at which point the facility is uniquely positioned to potentially serve both the [California ISO] and the [Desert Southwest Region of the Western Area Power Administration] markets. In 2014, AltaGas acquired Blythe II. Also in 2014, AltaGas acquired land for development located north of the Blythe Energy Center and directly adjacent to Blythe II. The development of both projects could potentially more than triple AltaGas’ current generating capacity in California over the medium and long-term.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.