Saturday, 25 May 2024

Power plant addresses state, local operation violations

COBB – Faced with county and state permit violations, Bottle Rock Power Corp. is currently working to sort out violations related to its geothermal operations on Cobb Mountain.


The power plant, currently owned by a partnership between US Renewables Group and Carlyle/Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund I, reopened in 2007 after being closed for many years. The Department of Water Resources had originally operated the plant.


Last fall, neighbors in the area began holding a series of public meetings with county officials and plant representatives over their concerns with a variety of plant-related issues, from noise and truck traffic to the disposal of materials created by geothermal drilling, as Lake County News has reported.


Rick Coel, director of Lake County's Community Development Department, said the county sent the plant violation notices in the second week of January.


“Bottle Rock has been working pretty feverishly to rectify some of these problems,” Coel said.


Melissa Floyd, the county's geothermal coordinator, said the county's issues with the plant involve drill cuttings left in a meadow, grading roads and firebreaks, reporting and contingency plans, construction of berms around drill pads, financial assurances, sumps – ponds used to store materials from the drilling – and freeboard, which is the space between the top of the materials in the sumps and the top of the basin.


The county required Bottle Rock Power to come into “substantial compliance” by March 1, with the understanding that some items on the list will require waiting until the dry season because they involve substantial grading, said Floyd. She said she's received contingency plans for the completion of additional measures. The completion dates range from the coming weeks to after the end of the rainy season.


The State Water Resources Control Board also cited the plant last fall based on complaint from a neighbor, said Joe Karkoski, acting assisting executive officer.


A concern for the state was that the plant had not collected necessary data on their operation, he said.


Then there was the issue of freeboard and disposal. “Those are issues that are potential threats to water quality,” said Karkoski.


However, he noted that the problem is being addressed. The plant lowered the level of materials in the sumps to achieve the required 2 feet of freeboard to prevent overtopping, thus restoring the safety margin. He said Bottle Rock Power hired a consultant to work with the state on the resolving the violations.


Karkoski said the agency hasn't made a determination that any water quality problems in the area have resulted from the operations.


The state also was concerned about improper disposal of materials from the sumps on a meadow. However, Karkosi and Guy Childs, a State Water Resources Control Board engineering geologist, said the plant was looking at moving those materials in early November and the plant has since changed its disposal practices.


“That's part of what our conversation is going to be with them, is to get them on track and make sure they're taking care of this material properly,” said Karkoski. “At this point they're being cooperative and responding to the issues that have been raised.”


This is the only dealing the water board has had with Bottle Rock Power, said Karkoski.


He said the agency has a progressive enforcement policy, which begins with working with a discharger to come into compliance. If that doesn't work, they pursue other options, with the more severe possibilities being fines of $1,000 a day.


“Our feedback from the state and the county is that we are meeting their expectations,” said Bottle Rock Compliance Manager Karon Thomas.


Thomas said the plant was working on the issues prior to the issuance of the notices of violation.


“The materials from the meadow were removed, they were never meant to stay there,” she said.


The nonhazardous soil drill cuttings were completely cleaned up prior to Oct. 15, said Thomas, which is a month earlier than the state indicated.


The meadow has since been hydroseeded and the materials taken to a facility, Thomas said.


She said she believed the plant's neighbors misunderstood what the procedures were and what actually was happening with the drill cuttings.


Thomas said the plant also has a permit proposal for a dewatering unit to handle rainwater in the sumps in order to ensure the freeboard margin is maintained. She said 3 feet of freeboard has been achieved at the Francisco and Coleman drill sumps.


Reid Morgan, community liaison officer, said each of the meetings with the community “has been better than the last one,” in terms of general progress being made.


He said the noise levels of the drill pads appear to have been handled through a three-level system of sound walls, blankets around the rigs and walls around the rigs' diesel engines.


Plant officials are working on road maintenance and improvement issues, and have completed a road study. Work on High Valley Road and the bridge will have to wait for better weather, said Morgan. They're also monitoring the speed of truck drivers and plant personnel on the roads.


Neighbor David Coleman has mixed feelings about the plant's work to handle its issues.


“The power plant is attempting to do things,” he said. “The problem I have is they made so many mistakes from the beginning.”


Coleman's family members were some of the area's original homesteaders in the 1860s. His property is adjacent to more than 300 acres which are occupied by the plant's operations.


The steamfields at the location were operating in the 1970s, he said, and the plant began operating in the early 1980s. Some of the drill sites are even named for his family.


He said the plant's original permits clearly lay out how it's supposed to be operated, and he faults the current owners for failing to comply with those guidelines.


“I think they're worried,” he said of the plant's operators. “They're making a dramatic effort to make changes.”


While he said the materials in the sumps and drill cuttings aren't toxic “per se,” when considering the chemicals in the ground and those used in high temperature drilling, “over a number of years this stuff adds up.”


He said he's not as concerned with sound issues from the plant, which he said has always been loud.


“I can live with the sound, whereas I can't live with the stuff that's going into the system,” he said.


Coleman is pleased with the state's rapid response to the plant's violations. He said he has friends who work with state government who told him that it's unheard of to get a notice of violation within six months.


And he's upfront in noting that he is the one who complained about the plant to the state. In fact, he said he has contacted many state and local agencies, and will continue to do so, in an effort to keep the heat on Bottle Rock Power so that they comply.


He added, “I've tried to cut them more slack than some of my neighbors have.”


Coleman added that he's been on good terms with the plant's operators since they started.


He maintains the sumps are illegal. The basins have 2-foot-thick clay liners that permit specifications say are only good for eight months. The sumps have been in use for 30 years. He said the sumps have been compromised and may have been leaking into the ground for years.


Coleman said his contact at the plant is Morgan, who he called “a very realistic person.” He said if he shows Morgan a problem, he's willing to accept it and work on it.


Still to be addressed, however, is an issue brought up at a recent community meeting with the plant's operators late last month, in which it was noted that a steam line is starting to fail.


Coleman said he's also asked for core samples to be conducted on the meadow and around the sumps to find if the liners have failed. “They say it's in the works.”


The next step, Coleman said, is for the community to get a time line of when the plant's improvements will be done, who will do them and the process that's involved.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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