State energy panel OKs power plant

The California Energy Commission has approved a power plant near Lodi that will supply the Modesto Irrigation District and 13 partners.

The commission voted unanimously Wednesday to issue a license for the plant, which will burn natural gas to produce 280 megawatts of power.

Construction will start in June and take two years, officials said.

The MID has signed on for 30 megawatts at an estimated cost of $41 million. The MID initially wanted to draw 66 megawatts from the plant, but scaled down its proposal when elected representatives declined to raise electricity rates to the scale that the project would have required.

The plant's output will help the MID make up for expiring power purchase contracts. It is being planned by the Northern California Power Agency on behalf of 10 of its member utilities, including the MID, and four others.

The partners, all of them public bodies, say it will be the most efficient gas plant in the state, providing a large amount of electricity for each unit of fuel burned. This could help them meet a state mandate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions believed to be changing the planet's climate.

The plant will rise next to an existing gas plant and will not need new transmission lines.

Meanwhile, the MID has started construction on a 50-megawatt expansion of its gas plant on Woodland Avenue in Modesto. It expects a 50-megawatt increase in wind power from the Pacific Northwest later this year.

The district is considering a 25-megawatt solar plant on north McHenry Avenue and a 30-megawatt plant in the Beard Industrial District that would burn orchard wood.

The solar plant is proposed by SunPower Corp. It announced Thursday that it has partnered with Flextronics Industrial to make solar panels at a plant in Milpitas, Santa Clara County.

The plant will create about 100 jobs, the companies said.