|The Davies Estate geothermal well drilling pad near Anderson Springs, Calif. Photo courtesy of Calpine.|
LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Lake County Planning Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to approve Calpine's request for a 30-year use permit extension on its Davies Estate geothermal drilling site.
Despite concerns about seismicity voiced by the residents of the nearby community of Anderson Springs – they asked that the seismicity issue be made a part of the permit – the commission found that extending the use permit until Aug. 11, 2043, met the standards of a Class 1 Categorical Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
Planning Commissioner Cliff Swetnam recused himself from the discussion, reporting that he was a Calpine stockholder and so had a conflict of interest.
County staff reported that the permit, first issued by the commission in October 1983, allows for a total of four geothermal wells on an existing pad, as well as accessory roads and pipelines.
Assistant Resource Planner Will Evans said the site has been in continuous operation for nearly 29 years.
The staff report said the wells have operated “without causing harmful effects to the environment,” and added that Calpine is in compliance with all of the existing use permits conditions, which include mitigating impacts on the environmental, wildlife and cultural resources.
Evans said staff was suggesting that the time extension be granted with the existing permit requirements to remain in effect.
Joe A. Austin, a district geothermal engineer with the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which regulates geothermal operations in the state, spoke briefly to the commission, reporting that the agency held Calpine to be in compliance with its requirements.
His comments echoed those in a letter he had sent Evans dated Oct. 17, in which he said that the agency had no objections to the Class 1 Categorical Exemption being applied in this case.
Bruce Carlsen, environmental director for Calpine, said the company was not seeking a change to the permit, only a time extension.
He said the Davies Estate site produces 3.5 megawatts of steam, a “significant amount of production” for the small area, located about three quarters of a mile south of Anderson Springs.
Attorney Katherine Philippakis, speaking on behalf of Calpine, agreed with county staff's proposal that the extension could be dealt with through the Class 1 Categorical Exemption. Like Carlsen, she emphasized no changes were being made to the operation.
Carlsen said seismicity and its impacts across The Geysers underwent review with the permitting needed for the recycled water injection projects put in place there. Monitoring and analysis across the steamfield are required and ongoing.
He suggested that a proper permit term should be for the productive life of the project. With The Geysers' geothermal development being linked to long-term recycled water projects, Carlsen said they could be there 100 years or more. The oldest well in The Geysers is more than 50 years and still producing steam.
“We're here to stay,” he said.
Community Development Director Rick Coel said the majority of the major use permits approved in the county are for indefinite terms. “The exceptions seem to be billboards and geothermal.”
He said there is a good argument for making use permits indefinite. Giving time constraints on local permits for the geothermal operations had started at some point and continued to be carried through.
“I can't seem to find a logic for it,” said Commission Chair Olga Martin Steele.
Senior County Counsel Bob Bridges noted that all mining and mineral permits have specific terms.
The commission heard from several Anderson Springs residents who felt that the impacts on their lives and properties justified more constraints on the operation’s permitting, noting that they are experiencing more quakes – including a 3.4-magnitude quake reported in the area on Wednesday night.
Merial Medrano, a 41-year resident of Anderson Springs, said community members wanted seismicity-related conditions added to the permit.
“To say that nothing has changed for 30 years is ridiculous,” she said, pointing to the increase in earthquakes and the more than $200,000 in damages paid out to homeowners.
Another Anderson Springs resident, Joan Clay, who also chairs the area’s mitigation committee and homeowners association, and is a member of the Anderson Springs Community Alliance, confirmed Medrano’s statements.
Clay supported holding the permit to 10 years, noting that seismic monitoring stations have only been in the area a few years. She said she was counting on the commission to support Anderson Springs, and that community members want to work with the county and Calpine.
Brian Harms, general manager of Bottle Rock Power, a geothermal operation on Cobb, said his operation has submitted a request to the county similar to Calpine’s. He held that Calpine’s request fit the requirements for the Class 1 Categorical Exemption.
Harms suggested that there are separate mechanisms to deal with the concerns about the operations, adding that the extension of a business operation can’t be held hostage to those concerns.
Commissioner Bob Malley said he believed the permit offered enough opportunities for the public’s concerns to be addressed.
Commissioner Mike Van Der Boon said he thought Calpine has done a great job working with the community. “I certainly do understand their concerns as far as noise and seismic activity,” he said of the area’s residents.
Steele asked about complaints for the specific well pad operation. “We've had no complaints from the Davies Estate well pad operations. Nothing on record,” replied Coel.
Steele asked Carlsen if they had any plans for additional monitoring. Carlsen said no, adding, “My company wants us to be in harmony with surrounding communities.”
He said they have measured noise at the well pads and are working to reduce the noise, explaining that a lot of equipment is being rotated. While the community wants the changes to happen faster, Carlsen said they can’t just change all of the equipment on the hill and get nothing for it.
Van Der Boon moved to find that the permit was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act by falling within the Class 1 Categorical Exemption, which the commission approved 4-0. He then moved to extend the use permit through August 2043, which also was approved 4-0.
Also on Thursday, the commission approved forwarding to the Board of Supervisors proposed changes to county zoning that would ban marijuana cultivation in apartment complexes and mobile home parks unless, in the case of the latter, there are approved common areas for growing, a change the commission suggested.
They also supported a proposed limit on processing marijuana in residential neighborhoods, with the amount of marijuana that can be processed to be limited to what county ordinance determines can be grown in that zoning.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.