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CALIFORNIA | HEARD ON THE BEAT / ENERGY

New Life for an Old Site : Victorville Hopes to Put Power Plant on Ex-Base

June 19, 1997|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attracting a new power plant may not fulfill every city's economic development fantasy, but Victorville, the windblown high desert city with an abandoned military base on its hands, will take it and go quietly.

Constellation Power, a unit of Baltimore Gas & Electric, and Inland Energy of Newport Beach want to spend up to $400 million on a 700-megawatt power plant on a piece of the abandoned George Air Force Base. Power generation could start in 2000 if the California Energy Commission goes along with the proposal.

Ever since the Pentagon vacated the nearby 5,000-acre base three years ago and made Victorville the owner, the city has been looking for new industrial occupants, hoping the site would be a catalyst for development. It re-christened the airstrip portion of the base--somewhat grandiosely--as Southern California International Airport, billing it as a transportation hub.

But until the power plant proposal was unveiled earlier this month, the best the city had been able to do was attract a federal prison, now under construction on 1,000 acres. The airstrip has seen some commercial flights but mainly handles charter flights ferrying in Army soldiers for training at Ft. Irwin near Barstow.

The highly automated, natural-gas-burning plant would employ a maximum of 40 workers, so the project would hardly be a jobs bonanza. Still, Victorville officials are more than pleased, saying it conforms to their economic development concept.

The developers say the site is perfect for their needs, in large part because there is likely to be little "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) opposition, project director Andy Welch said. The nearest residential development to the 25-acre site is more than a mile away.

Power from the plant, one of five "merchant power" plants recently proposed in the state, would be sold to the state's Power Exchange, the centerpiece of the state's deregulated electricity market set to kick in next January. The site is ideally situated to provide power into the Los Angeles basin, Welch said.

Down to Two: The search for a new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power has reportedly been narrowed to two candidates: David Freeman, trustee of two new state agencies that will figure prominently in California's deregulated electricity market, and Matthew C. Cordaro, president of Nashville (Tenn.) Electric Service.

Freeman is the better-known locally of the two, having once served as general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. He is now head of the Independent System Operator and Power Exchange Restructuring Trusts, overseeing the establishment of two key bureaucratic elements of the deregulated electricity market that begins in January.

Asked by the Sacramento Bee to explain his current job, Freeman replied, "Breaking up the utilities."

Vote Delayed: Already several months behind schedule, a City Council vote on the proposed strategic alliance between the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and Duke/Louis Dreyfus (D/LD) has been pushed back at least another month as the DWP assesses the impact of D/LD partner Duke Power's just-completed acquisition of PanEnergy.

DWP interim General Manager Harry Sizemore says he still expects an alliance with the Duke-led power marketer, whose name is changing to Duke Energy Trading & Marketing. That's because the Louis Dreyfus half, including executives William Louis-Dreyfus and Simon Rich, were bought out of the 50-50 partnership with Duke for $247 million last week.

Oil Firm Pumps Up: Monterey Resources of Bakersfield bolstered its ranking as California's fifth-largest oil producer with the $106-million purchase of McFarland Energy announced Tuesday. The combined company will have average daily production of about 53,000 barrels a day, or about 5% of the state's daily crude output. The companies own adjacent oil fields in Kern County. Monterey had been spun off in November from Santa Fe Energy Resources.

Electric Deal: New Energy Ventures, a Los Angeles-based electricity marketer, says it has made the biggest wholesale deal yet by a California power broker, selling 200 megawatts of electricity generated by the Bonneville Power Agency over the next six months to ConAgra of Omaha and NorAm of Houston. The deal is worth an estimated $13 million.

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