Power Plants and Airports Don’t Mix


Andy Wilson Director-at-Large

You may not be aware that two new power plant developments have been proposed within 1.5 miles of Hayward Executive Airport (HWD), and that more are planned in close proximity of other state airports. No surprise, as incentive the power company offered Hayward a very large sum of “community money” if the projects were approved (Editor’s Note: This article is from the March 2009 newsletter. Please read on as there are many more planned in close proxinmity to airports in the state).

Researching the aviation issues associated with the operation of the proposed 50 Megawatt (and larger) power plants within HWD airspace exposed the potential dangers to aircraft operations, which were being ignored, or downplayed.

Background – Power Plant Proposal Process
During an initial California Energy Commission (CEC) hearing a 12 month ‘sitting process’ similar to a court proceeding is conducted.

The process includes public workshops, public comment, data requests, a pre-hearing, as well as an evidentiary hearing where evidence and witnesses give sworn testimony. Any person, including pilots, can make public comments either verbally, or in writing at anytime during the process, up to the final Commissioners decision meeting held in Sacramento, California.

Individual comments cannot, however, be legally considered as evidence unless they are provided by an Intervener or an attorney. The basic rationale for intervention is that a judgment in a particular case may affect the rights of nonparties. The issue with this is that the CEC does not clarify this point prior to the hearings. One must know the rules.

To become an Intervener, application is made to the CEC. Becoming an Intervener has no educational, i.e. being an attorney, nor resident location requirement relative to the proposed power plant site. All CEC projects have an Intervener application deadlines.

Without an understanding of court procedures, as an attorney would, an Intervener may struggle during the evidentiary hearing. Participation during the evidentiary hearing phase includes submitting evidence, calling witnesses and the cross examination of witnesses. Declarations and Exhibits are also required of participants in the evidentiary hearing. It is best to prepare.

It is also important to note that Interveners receive correspondence and project documentation that may, or may not, be posted on the CEC Project web site. This site specific project information could prove invaluable in opposing the power plant location.

It is recommended that anyone giving sworn testimony not provide public comment, written or otherwise, outside of the hearing as it can be used against your testimony.

Carol Ford, Calpilots Region 3 VP and Jay White, Calpilots General Council, gave expert testimony during the Hayward Eastshore evidentiary hearing.

After that hearing closed I made comments as a local Hayward pilot under Public Comments. I also attended most, if not all CEC Work Shops, Alameda County Airport Land Use Commission Hearings, Evidentiary Hearings and the Commissioners business meetings in Sacramento, CA. Attorney Jewell Hargelroad, represented CalPilots, and provided a huge amount of legal work pro bono.

An FAA published paper provides the basis for local pilots to become involved with proposed power plants. It addresses industrial thermal plumes being a possible danger to small general aviation aircraft titled: Safety Study Report DOT-FAA-AFS-420-6-1 Safety Risk Analysis of Aircraft Overflight of Industrial Exhaust Plumes Flight Procedure Standards Branch, AFS-420 January 2006

Status of Power Plants near CA Airports
Hard work by multiple organizations, and individuals, and the sworn testimony of the CEC Staff during the (Hayward) Eastshore Power Project, resulted in the CEC evidentiary hearing staff recommending that power plants not be sited within three miles of California general aviation airports. CalPilots is recommendation is five miles.

Testifying against the Hayward power plant location(s) were CalPilots, FAA, CalTrans Division of Aeronautics, and Alameda County’s expert witnesses Larry Berlin and Alameda County Planner, Cindy Horvath. Letters were also received from The Port of Oakland, CalPilots and AOPA.

Others include:

  • Blythe Airport in Blythe, CA has one operating power plant. It is located approximately one mile and slightly off-center at the end of runway 26. This has resulted in a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) being published on the aeronautical charts to avoid flying directly over or near the power plant. The NOTAM has reduced the usable airport air space within one mile of the airport and removes pilot focus in the cockpit to the power plant and its thermal plume (Editor’s Note: You can see the location by visiting the CALPILOTS’ web site and searching on Blythe).
  • Blythe II – A second power plant, now licensed sited by the CEC, has resulted in a mitigating issue by the CEC for the FAA to change the airport pattern. Blythe II has not been constructed as of this writing.
  • Eastshore Power Project DENIED by the CEC Commissioners (11-08-08)
  • Russell City Energy Center Amendment, Hayward Executive Airport in Hayward, CA is now licensed and is located approximately 1.5 miles form the airport. A mitigating issue is to publish a NOTAM to avoid the thermal plumes. This has resulted in reduced airspace with 1.5 miles of the airport.

Other Proposed CEC Power Plant Projects Being Sited Near Ca Airports:

  • Carlesbad Energy Center (07-AFC-06) – McCellan – Polomar Ariport
  • Tracy Combined Cycle (08-AFC-07) – Tracy Airport
  • Palmdale Solar Gas Hybrid (08-AFC-9) – Palmdale Airport

All current CEC Power Plants in the process of being licensed can be found at:



Airports and their associated open space are magnets for development. That is a fact of life. We do not, however, have to accept development, such as large power plants that will endanger aircraft operations. It is up to each of us to make sure that does not happen.

The CEC hearing is a long but important process. Unless local pilots get involved early we may find ourselves flying airport traffic patterns worried about turbulent upset due to the heat from the stacks of a power plant.

Here are some steps to head off power plant development within five miles of your airport:

1. Determine the exact location of the proposed power plant, and whether the Airport Land Use Commissions addresses power plants and Airport land Use Safety Zones.

2. Determine CEC power plant project ‘siting’ schedule meetings and location, Airport Land Use meetings, all evidentiary meetings, and all Commissioners Business Meetings in Sacramento, CA.

  • Identify CEC Staff project staff
  • Determine witnesses for CEC Evidentiary hearing

3. Contact potentially affected communities as soon as the agency is aware that a permit application may be filed or is filed.

  • Determine your city and County Agency positions

4. Involve the community early on key issues:

  • Develop a plan for community involvement in conjunction with the community.
  • Hold an initial hearing or an informal meeting with the potentially affected communities immediately after receipt of the application.
  • Identify community concerns, establish credible dialogue – and avoid mistrust that can be created by negotiations with the source out of the public eye.
  • Identify, contact and involve your local airport pilot organizations
  • Identify and contact FAA and CalTrans Division of Aeronautics personnel

5. Review and comment on the CEC Preliminary Staff Report and the Final Staff Report Transportation, Visual and Hazardous Materials Sections.

  • Make technical reports available to the public as soon as they are available – the current 30-day comment period is inadequate for communities to obtain independent technical advice on complicated issues.
  • Establish a repository of information that is easily accessible (within a day’s notice) so that the public does not have to rely on PRA requests. Make documents available on the web.
  • Determine witnesses for CEC Evidentiary hearing.
  • Provide meaningful technical assistance, and make technical experts available for questions.

Long Term –

It is clear that airports with their open space will continue to be targets of development of all types. Power plants in close proximity of airports can be dangerous. We need to create a long term strategy to protect our airports from the dangers of stack turbulence. Here are a few ideas to accomplish this goal.

  • Eliminate Airport encroachment by Power Plants – Implement California Legislation against power plant construction within 5 miles of any airport.
  • Work with City or County Airport Land Commissions to write into the Airport Land Use no power plants with 5 miles of the airport.

Become aware of power plant development in your area and act upon it immediately when proposed.

Editor’s Note: Andy Wilson, one of the recipients of the CALPILOTS Airport Advocate Award, not only attended all the above meetings for both Easthsore and Russell City, he also became educated on the issues involving power plants within five miles of airports.

Technical Note:
For purposes of this analysis, a vertical velocity of 4.3 m/s plume average velocity hasbeen determined as the critical velocity of concern to light aircraft. The gas turbineplume velocity drops below 4.3 m/s at approximately 1,070 feet AGL, at which heightthe gas turbine plume diameter is calculated to be 299 feet. The proposed CECP aircooler average plume velocity drops below 4.3 m/s at approximately 1,410 feet AGL,and the plume diameter is calculated to be over 1,500 feet at 1,410 feet AGL.Therefore, potentially adverse impacts could occur to low-flying aircraft using theairspace above the CECP exhaust and air cooler stacks. The plume velocities from theCECP could cause moderate to severe turbulence. It should be noted that the plumevelocity speed presented is average m/s of the entire plume diameter. Plume velocityspeeds would be lower at the plume diameter edge and greater at the plume centerpoint.


Andy Wilson

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