Court Agrees With TURN: CPUC Too Quick to Approve PG&E Plant
OAKLEY — Plans to build a natural gas-fired power plant in this city have again been halted.
A state appellate court this week annulled the 2012 approval of Pacific Gas & Electric’s application to establish a new 586-megawatt plant in Oakley in an industrial site near the Antioch Bridge.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco sided with consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, along with the Independent Energy Producers Association and Western Power Trading Forum, in a 3-0 ruling Wednesday, saying the state’s Public Utilities Commission decision to approve the plant was not supported by substantial evidence.
“The Commission’s finding of need … relies on uncorroborated hearsay materials the truth of which is disputed … because the remaining evidence in the record fails to support the Commission’s finding of need, the decisions must be annulled,” read part of the 25-page ruling.
The implications of the court ruling are uncertain at this point.
Local lawmakers and labor officials expressed disappointment in the decision but said builder Radback Energy and other stakeholders remain fully committed to the project.
PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said the utility learned the news late Wednesday and is carefully reviewing the court’s ruling.
This week’s decision marks the second time in as many years that the appellate court has turned back commission approval of the Oakley plant. The proposal has scuffled through myriad approvals and appeals since first proposed in 2008.
The appellate court annulled the commission’s December 2010 approval in 2012, saying the commission acted unlawfully in its hasty approval. PG&E revised its application later that year.
In its proposal, PG&E presented a declaration from a California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, executive, and a petition it had filed with a federal agency.
Neither testified in the commission’s proceedings.
Because of its hearsay nature, the administrative law judge presiding over the application case ruled these materials could not be used as evidence. The commission, however, did not adopt the judge’s decision, and its December 2012 approval “expressly relied” on the hearsay materials, according to Wednesday’s ruling.
“I think what the court recognized is that if PG&E wants to add a new power plant to its arsenal, with a price tag in excess of a billion dollars that would cause rates to go up by $200 million per year, it needs to demonstrate that there’s a real need for the plant,” said Robert Finkelstein, TURN’s attorney.
PG&E’s Sarkissian reiterated that the state-of-the-art Oakley plant supports the state’s drive toward more efficient, environmentally friendly power sources.
“(The plant) will provide power when renewable energy cannot and fill those energy gaps. It’s exactly the kind of project that is needed in California,” Sarkissian said.
Local officials note that the project has broad-based support and could generate close to 1,000 construction jobs and millions for the city in annual unitary tax.
“We’re going to take the time and work out all the technical issues to make sure everybody is 100 percent on board,” said Greg Feere, director of the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council.
Finkelstein said his hope is that “all these contortions” stop and the utilities commission applies its existing process fairly to Oakley.