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THE CALIFORNIA ENERGY CRISIS

Bush Orders Expedited Review of Proposed Power Plants in State

February 17, 2001|EDMUND SANDERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Bush ordered federal agencies Friday to expedite their review of proposed power plants in California, but said environmental regulations would not be relaxed in the rush to bring new energy supplies to the state.

Power companies, while welcoming the president's order, said it would have only a modest effect on power-plant development in California.

"It's mainly a state issue, but anything that keeps things moving at the federal level is good," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, which waited 22 months for approval to build a giant power plant at Moss Landing in Monterey County.

California Gov. Gray Davis asked for Bush's order when he took similar steps last week to streamline the state's review process for new power generation facilities.

"The governor requested federal assistance to expedite federal permits so they can move at the same warp speed we're moving at in California," said Steve Maviglio, a Davis spokesman. California officials hope permits that once took as long as 16 months to review will be completed in 21 to 100 days, Maviglio said.

In particular, the state hopes to encourage applications from so-called peaking plants: small, mobile-home-sized facilities that operate near existing plants to supply electricity when demand is high.

Bush's order to the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant federal agencies could be a boon for 15 pending applications seeking approval from the California Energy Commission, ranging from Duke Energy's $650-million plant in Morro Bay to a $550-million project in San Bernardino County proposed by Thermo Ecotek.

Officials at the Interior Department said Friday that they have already ordered field offices serving California to speed up review of pending applications. The agency hopes to make a decision on two California plants by March.

A spokesman for PG&E Corp. praised the president's order, but said it should be expanded to include expedited reviews for fuel pipelines and transmission lines running to and from power plants, both in California and in nearby states.

Separately, a bipartisan group of 20 California members of Congress headed by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to report on what more can be done to increase electricity supplies in the West by summer.

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