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Calpine subsidiary to pay California $2.1 million in settlement over alleged fire system violations

The primary power plant operator at The Geysers geothermal field on the Sonoma-Lake county border will pay more than $2 million to the state to settle alleged violations related to fire protection systems at six of its power plants in the region.

In addition to the payment, the Geysers Power Co., a subsidiary of Houston-based Calpine Corp., was required to make upgrades to the involved power facilities, according to the California Energy Commission, which announced the deal Monday.

The state did not specify what problems it found with the fire systems at the plants, nor reveal any details about how the operator had fallen short of state standards. A spokesman for the California Energy Commission did not respond to emailed questions before deadline.

The state’s findings came from routine power plant inspections at The Geysers in February and March of 2018. The issues were not related to any fire events, the energy commission said in a written statement.

Geysers Power Co. also agreed to make similar facilities upgrades at seven other power plants it operates at The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal energy field. The company produces enough renewable electricity at the property in the remote Mayacamas Mountains above Healdsburg and Geyserville to power more than 700,000 homes.

“We appreciate the Geysers Power Company’s rapid response to address these important issues and the company’s cooperation in reaching the settlement, which saves state resources by avoiding investigation and enforcement action,” Drew Bohan, executive director of the California Energy Commission, said in the written statement. “Ensuring the safety and reliability of California’s existing power plant fleet is foundational to the Energy Commission’s work.”

Working with outside experts and state representatives, Calpine developed a plan to resolve the alleged shortcomings, according to the energy commission.

Improvements at the company’s cooling towers, aimed to “reduce the risk from wildfire impact,” have already been made, said Brett Kerr, vice president of external affairs for Calpine. The company also updated its inspection, recordkeeping and reporting procedures, per the agreement, he said in a written statement.

“Geysers Power Company has worked diligently and cooperatively with the California Energy Commission to identify various fire protection and fire protection equipment which required modifications,” Kerr wrote. “As a result of this settlement, Geysers Power Company has successfully upgraded it fire protection systems.”

The settlement follows Cal Fire’s determination this summer that a PG&E high-voltage transmission line located in The Geysers sparked the 2019 Kincade fire, the county’s largest on record. It burned nearly 78,000 acres and destroyed 174 homes and 200 other buildings in just over two weeks.

Kerr previously told The Press Democrat that the company did not think any of its equipment was connected to the fire. On Monday, he reiterated in his statement that none of the issues identified by the state caused or contributed to any fire.

The $2.1 million payment will go into California’s general fund, per state law.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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