Santa Paula Citizens: No, thanks, Calpine

By Sheryl Hamlin

Over a period of five and a half hours on July 28, 2016, residents and supporters of Santa Paula expressed concerns and issues about the proposed Mission Rock Peaker Plant to the California Energy Commission (CEC) who had returned to re-hear a meeting originally held in June 2016 as reported here.

On overflow crowd, estimated at more than 200 in the main room of the Santa Paula Community Center and more in the televised overflow room, was pleased with the professional orchestration of the meeting, which included dual projections of slides in English and Spanish, headphones for translations, live translations of Spanish speakers’ testimonies during Public Comments, food, coffee and a live WebEx stream for those wishing to watch or communicate via the Internet.  Security guards monitored the area.

The picture below taken by Laura Hernandez shows the west side of the room, one of the CEC projections and the Calpine team. In the audience were Santa Paula council members Procter, Crosswhite and Gherardi, who spoke in Public Comments, as well as Mayor Hernandez, who welcomed the audience and thanked the CEC. Supervisor candidates Kelly Long and Carla Castilla were also present. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Supervisor Kathy Long and Representative Julia Brownley sent representatives. Michael Vallegasfrom the Ventura County Pollution Control District was in attendance, as well as Fillmore City Council member Manuel Minjares.


In the photo collage below, the east side of the room is shown along with the table of CEC staff members: Mike Monasmith, project manager, Eric Knight, esq. and another attorney. At the dais are Susan Cochran, esq., the Hearing Officer, Commissioner Janea Scott, Commissioner Karen Douglas, and two more staff members. At another table was the Public Advisor, Alana Mathews.


CEC Presentations

Project Manager

Michael Monasmith explained the process starting with the application submitted by Calpine on December 30, 2015 for the project located at 1025 Mission Rock Road. He explained that the Warren-Alquist Act formed the CEC. After more hearings and review of data requests responded by the applicant, staff will report. Staff functions independently from the commission, he said. The commission will produce a Presiding Members’ Proposed Decision (PMPD) which will be reviewed by the full commission, whose decision is final, unless the decision is taken to court.

The CEC does not prepare an EIR, but prepares a written document, Preliminary Staff Assessment (PSA) which includes mitigations and alternatives, one of which is the no action alternative. It is similar to an EIR, but with a different format. The PSA is available for a 30 day comment period. After that period, comments are considered, responded and incorporated into the Final Staff Assessment (FSA). There are evidentiary hearings during the process. Citizens can apply to become ‘Intervenors’ in the process, who are allowed to question and respond to respondents. The schedule for this entire process will be available on the CEC Mission Rock project site.

At the time of this meeting, there were 54 commentaries submitted by citizens via the CEC website and 118 data requests sent to Calpine. The responses to the data requests will be reviewed and incorporated into the PSA.  Major issues surrounding this project at the present time are the Caltrans 126 project and impacts on the river and adjacent properties during 100 year flood. Agencies who will be consulted are Caltrans, California Fish and Wildlife, CalISO, FEMA, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife, Tribes.

Important date: On September 13 or 14th there will be a local workshop with responses to the 118 data requests.

Public Advisor

The Public Advisor (PA) explained that notices for this project are sent to local cities, counties, property owners, tribal groups and newspapers; however, the bulk of notice is electronic, so she stressed signing up for the distribution list for the project. Her staff includes bilingual specialists.


Mitch Weinberg presented an overview of the project similar to the one given to the Santa Paula Council. Details of this meeting can be read here.

The goal, he said, is “Clean, Modern, Efficient, Flexible Power Generation” with five 767 aircraft engines each capable of 55 MW. Each engine features a clutch between the turbine and the generator. The design is called “synchronous connectors” which allows generation without turbines engaged. The technique is discussed here and here . Each 60’ stack is less than the adjacent 70’ stack on the neighboring property, he said. The site will feature a row of shipping containers of batteries which can run independently.

Features include no land-use changes, because the property is already zoned industrial and is considered a ‘brownfield’, grid reliability through a reasonable transmission route to the Santa Clara substation and good interconnection to gas and water with only 1.7 miles to the Limoneira recycled water and 2 miles to the natural gas connection.

The Santa Clara substation is in the middle of agricultural land. He did not describe the easements for the water and the gas, although he did say that they will pay the Limoneira Foundation $200,000 for the transmission line easement. Nor did he discuss the easement next to the Todd Road jail granted by the County Supervisors in 2014 as reported earlier.

In consideration of the potential flooding of the river, the project will be raised 10’. He did not describe the source of this fill, although we learned on the Site Tour that the fill would come from Grimes Canyon.

The jobs resulting from the project would be 175 construction and 16 new full time jobs with a $2.5 million payroll ($156,250 each fully loaded) and a $1.3 million operations and maintenance budget that would permeate into local commerce. They have contracts with local labor associations.

Other Issues Identified by Staff

These issues fall into six categories: a) Biological Resources, b) Cultural Resources, c) Soil and Water, d) Transmission System Engineering, e) Visual Resources and f) alternatives.

Drilling down into each category yielded this list:

a) Songbird and least Bells Verio.

b) Santa Clara River Valley Rural Historic District (SCRVRHD)

c) Building in flood area complicated and the use of recycled water creates more issues

d) Must simulate conditions inserting new plant into the grad by January 2017

e) What are the visual issues of the transmission line (he did not say how this would be simulated), how would it affect tourists? CEC technicians are photographing the site now.

f) Alternative sites and technologies will be analyzed as well as a no-project alternative. A report has been filed about these alternatives.

Environmental Justice (EJ)

Eric Knight defined an EJ population as predominantly minority and low-income saying the community around the proposed project is an EJ population per the census.


The Hearing Officer (HO) discussed the schedule saying that on November 14, 2016, the discovery phase closes. After that there is a period of 180 days for commentary. This is where the Intervenors may participate in the cross-examination. CalISO already said it would be delayed, so the June 2017 final decision date has been slipped two to three months.

Public Comments

Sixty five citizens spoke during public comments; three of which supported the project, based on needed construction jobs,  while the rest opposed it. Six spoke through an interpreter. Ages of speakers ranged from five to 90 years old; many were born here or were from multi-generational, local families.

Themes spread through the testimony were air and water pollution, light pollution, noise, chemical danger, need not established, Santa Paula as dumping ground, Limoneira as facilitator, water not returned to aquifer, fossil fuels and green house gases, danger to pilots from transmission lines, proximity to jail and other residents, Environmental Justice, preservation of the river for community and economic benefit, legal suits against Calpine creating an untrustworthy developer, flood plain, earthquakes, health issues, outdated technology, habitat destruction, light pollution and outright grief in the treatment of the community.

Highlights of the testimony included the following:

  • Laura Espinosa, representing the League of Latin American Citizens, opposed the siting at this location or elsewhere saying it violated Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, and Presidential order 12898. Her full testimony can be read here.
  • Susan Caughey brought up the use of “story poles”, which are tall poles with flags or fabric to show the height and mass of a project. Most cities require these story poles and when a project is too tall, she said cranes can be used. Although not stated, the used of 3-D architectural modeling software could also be used which can provide a virtual reality walk-through of the site. She observed that Limoneira’s water now goes back into the aquifer, but this new use will prevent that aquifer recharge. And she noted that the Mission Rock Energy Company is an LLC, separate from Calpine, which shields them from liabilities. Her testimony is here.
  • Ginger Gherardi spoke of visual blight and noise. Saying we live in a bowl, the noise from the engines will be heard at night or day. It is wrong to think that this is only a 12 day a year problem, she said, because the citizens will live with the visual blight 365 days a year and the plants and animals will suffer from the light 365 days a year. Her detailed statement was docketed that night and should be on the CEC website soon.
  • Nate Pidduck calculated that the plant needs 238 acre feet per year (afy) of water, but Limoneira can only supply 48 to 85 afy. So what is the supply for the differential? Starving the plant of water, he said, will produce more pollution. Reduce hours permitted or deny permit is the solution.
  • Lorenzo Moraza, Latino Townhall President, cited the explosion at Santa Clara Waste Water two years ago. He specifically called out Limoneira and Calpine for taking advantage of a community of color. We will not be compromised by a business who has betrayed us, he said forcefully.
  • Audrey Vincent made the economic case for eco-tourism from the river citing a restoration credited for $200 million per year in new spending, also supported by the Nature Conservancy who has been quietly envisioning a river promenade from the county line to the ocean.
  • Patricia Kennedy said airplanes tangled in lines near her farm causing sparks and then fires, suggesting that even more transmission lines will create more danger for aviation. Her full testimony is here.
  • Ron Whitehurst, VC Climate Hub, pointed out that the demand for this plant will come from outside California in states decommissioning coal and nuclear plants who participate in the new regional power grid which CalISO is promoting.
  • Marcus Garcia, a transplant from Long Beach, brought his three homeschooled children and his wife. The children, who spoke confidently, appeared to be between 5 and 8.Alexandra, who could barely reach the microphone, said all should have a great life without pollution.

The transcript of the entire meeting will be available on the CEC website. To ensure notification, registration for the email system is suggested.

The next important meeting is in September in Santa Paula.

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