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Group Opposes Rezoning San Diego Open Space To Build Power Plant

March 22, 2012 1:10 p.m.


Lori Ziebart - project manager for the Quail Bush Generation Project for Cogentrix Energy.

Robin Kedward - spokesperson for Stop the Santee Power Plant

Related Story: A Santee Group Fights Back Against A Proposed Power Plant


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Thursday, March 22nd. Our top story on Midday Edition, a meeting about a proposed power plant on the outskirts of Santee may generate some of its own heat this afternoon. The California energy commission holds a public workshop on the proposed Quail Brush generation project today. Of the opponents of the plant are organized and focused on keeping the plant out of their communication. My guests, Lori Ziebart is project manager for Cogentrix energy. Welcome to the program.

ZIEBART: I appreciate the opportunity.

CAVANAUGH: And Robin Kedward is a spokesman for spoke the Santee power plant. Welcome to the show.

KEDWARD: It's good of you to invite us along.

CAVANAUGH: If you could give some basics about the plant, this is called a peaking plant. What is that?

ZIEBART: The quail brush generation plant is a proposed 100 megawatt peaker plant. It's designed not to run all the time. It's limited in our long-term contract with SDG&E to approximately 3,800 hours. It's there to meet peak demand. So when demand is the highest, it's there to fulfill that need and it's there to help with grid stability when renewables like wind and solar are not available.

CAVANAUGH: Now, how big is this plant? What will it look like?

ZIEBART: It's a 100 megawatt plant. It will be contained in an acoustically designed building. There will be 11 reciprocating engines been the building. These engines use very little water. And in the energy-producing process.

CAVANAUGH: And there's 100-foot tall stacks, right?

ZIEBART: Each engine has at this time its own stack, and yes, at this time they are modelled at 100 feet.

CAVANAUGH: Now, where will it be located?

ZIEBART: The Power plant will be located off of Mass Boulevard through the landfill gates just north of 52.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And how will actually the plant generate energy for SDG&E? Is this a natural gas plant?

ZIEBART: Yes, it is.

CAVANAUGH: Robin, let me ask you a few questions. The stop the Santee power plant organization recently got a continuous from the San Diego planning commission. What are you going to be using that time for?

KEDWARD: Yeah, we got a continuous from the planning commission down there. And in fact the commission will meet again on April the†26th. We're going to use that time to fill in the gaps that coten tricks failed to fill in when they started this process out. There are so many people living in the Santee area now that do not know this power plant is going to be located on their door step. One of the primary things we've got to do is to make sure that all the people in Santee who are going to be affected by this process are actually in the know. That's one of the things we're going to do.

CAVANAUGH: When did you find about this?

KEDWARD: I personally found out about it only five weeks ago, and it's about a mile and 200†yards away from my front door.

CAVANAUGH: Even though we're referring to it -- your group is referring to it as the Santee power plant, the location of the proposed plant is really within the City of San Diego boundaries, right?

KEDWARD: That's correct. Actually, it's in a place called east Elliot. East Elliot is an orphan place. It's the last area on the eastward moving portion of San Diego. And actually, it's located just north of Santee. So it's a bit of a problem. When you talk to the people who governor San Diego, they're aware of it, but all the effects are going to be on Santee. So it's kind of a difficult thing to organize people and to talk about it, because there are two jurisdictions dealing with the same problem.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Lori, what is this area zoned for now?

ZIEBART: It's zoned residential.

CAVANAUGH: And how would that need to be changed in order to get this plant built?

ZIEBART: It would need a community plan amendment.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And how are you going about trying to get that?

ZIEBART: We are working through the regular process by submitting a request to the city for initiation of a community plan amendment, and we are working with the CEC who is extensively reviewing the project.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Robin, how close is the proposed Quail Brush plant from houses? You say that you can see it from your house?

KEDWARD: Yes, I've actually pulled it out on Google and measured the differences. It's only 600 yards up-wind of a high school with over 600 students in the high school. It's 400 yards away from a place where the local little league people play baseball, and it's only 200 yards away from mission trails regional park. And that's our issue. Our issue with the zoning and the location really follows on the history of San Diego. When Alonzo Horton and Kate sessions began to plan this town 150 years ago, they set it up in such a way that the zoning would be almost a permanent thing, and areas were set aside for large industry, small industry, and housing. So the whole place was set up and zoned. As you look at San Diego today, it's a beautiful city. It's almost villages joined up by strips of freeway. There's nowhere you can go in San Diego and feel that you're in a huge city. Now, if we rezone and change the zoning of this year in east Elliot, we go against all of the planning that has gone before. It's simply something that we just can't allow to happen.

CAVANAUGH: How would you respond to that, Lori?

ZIEBART: Well, first of all, I'm not sure if those measurements are correct. But what's important to remember is that we do need grid reliability, and we do need resource for peak power. And power plants are hard to permit anywhere, but they need to go somewhere, especially with so many local facilities going offline. With respect to the zone changing in the community plan amendment, I think that's why we are applying and working through the process so that everyone will have an open opportunity to comment, to participate, and really assess the merets of moving toward with a community plan amendment. And that is also what's happening at the California energy commission who is responsible for the environmental review of this project and eventually, hopefully, providing a permit. Many of you may know, they're doing a workshop tonight at the mission trails regional park visitors' center at 5:00†PM, they are bringing down all of their issue experts and are welcoming comment, as we are. We want this to be an open process.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Lori, as part of that process, as part of your explanation of what this plant will be like and so forth, are there any Cogentrix plants that are located at sites that are less than a mile from schools and homes that you can cite at examples?

ZIEBART: I would have to get back with you on that.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. On the website, it says the plant will provide support for SDG&E in meeting renewable energy goals. How is it going to do that?

ZIEBART: Yes, thanks for asking, Maureen. The plant is designed to start quickly and efficiently to provide power when there are sudden drops in power generation from wind and solar. As we all know, wind doesn't blow all the time, and the sun doesn't shine all the time. And these changes can happen very quickly. So the technology that we are using, the most efficient peaker technology can start extremely quickly. And all of the plant does not have to come on at the same time. So it provides SDG&E with maximum flexibility to provide the power that is needed and to make up for the drops in power from wind and solar.

CAVANAUGH: Robin, I'm going to ask you in a minute your major concerns besides the zoning issue. But let's address that for a moment. What about our area's need for energy? What happens let's say in August when you go to turn on your air conditioner, and there's no power? Don't we need facilities like that, and don't they have to be located somewhere?

KEDWARD: Maureen, I'm not disputing the fact that every morning we have to get out of bug and plug in our coffee makers. That's not the issue. And neither is the issue the fact that this is going to be fueled with natural gas that is definitely not natural at all. The main issue here is that this plant is scheduled, and I think in their application they're calling for a 48% operation time, and that doesn't seem to be right. When you put up 160-160 million dollars to built a plant, and then tell everybody you're going to run it for only 48% of the time, there's going to be huge extra pressures from the board room to run it 100% of the time. So it seems a bit devious to us at the outset that you're going to run this only 48% of the time. Yes, it does have to go somewhere. We're not disputing that. Upon what we're saying is when you put in a plant like this, you must do it right. That's the key word here.

CAVANAUGH: And what are they doing wrong about it? The location itself?

KEDWARD: Santee is a dormitory community. Most of the people who live in Santee go to work in San Diego. The way that this power plant is situated, first of all, the exhaust, and I've got a whole bunch of stuff to tell you about exhaust, it blows down directly into Santee. I don't know if you can remember, but 15 years ago, the Santee and El Cajon and lake side area was a lot of our smoggiest places in town. Now if you go down there, because of the way we've made the place pretty good, it's a pretty nice place. And I can't see why we should have to have T-shirt tons of this stuff coming down on us every day.

CAVANAUGH: Let me get a reaction from Lori, especially about the amount of time that this peaker plant would be used. Is there guarantee that the community would have that indeed this plant would only be used about 40% of the time when needed to take up slack of other energy sources?

ZIEBART: We are contractually obligated with SDG&E only to run 3,800 hours. And importantly, the CEC, when they issue a permit, will dictate how we run. And if we violate that permit, then we would be subject to possible shutdown and significant fines. So the CEC is doing its analysis now, and then they will issue a permit with district guidelines. But we cannot decide to violate, and if we do, we would have the potential of being shut down and fined. So it's not an individual decision of how often we run and how we run. It is contractually obligated with SDG&E, and we will have to meet the requirements of our permit. And as to the exhaust, again the CEC, with our modeling, and the control technology that will be on the stacks, we will be below state and federal air emissions requirements. But the CEC will be doing its own independent modeling and make the final determination as to whether or not the plant meets air emission requirements. If it does not, we will not receive a permit. And that is the whole point of this CEC process, which is very public, which is very open. We welcome comment as does the CEC. And we believe through this extremely rigorous process in which they are analyzing all aspects of the project, including air emissions, we believe that this will be a very beneficial process for people to have their questions answered.

CAVANAUGH: Right. So at the meeting today at mission trails visitors' center, will Cogentrix be giving a presentation?

ZIEBART: We will not be giving a presentation. However, we will be there to answer questions that the CEC -- that are directed to us.

KEDWARD: Maureen, I have interrupt here. Some of the stories that I'm hearing about the pollution aspect of this plant simply aren't true. This plant is fueled with natural gas, and natural gas contains as a part of the process for obtaining it several materials that are known carcinogens. And these -- there's no technology right now to trap these in exhaust stacks am they'll simply come out of these 100-foot high stacks straight across the city of Santee. That seems to me to be a deplorable situation.

CAVANAUGH: I know that there are a number of issues that stop the Santee power plant has, property values, noise, emissions, etc. How are you going to be participating in the meeting at mission trails visitors' center today?

KEDWARD: Well, we want this meeting to be clean and sophisticated, quiet and orderly. We certainly don't want anything other than a good business sense going at this meeting. What we need to do at the meeting is to find out exactly what's going to happen to mission trails regional park. The natural history museum declares San Diego as a place in the country with the most diversity. San Diego County is the most diverse county in all of the United States. It's equal to that of Madagascar, to that of east timor. It's a --

CAVANAUGH: I'm so sorry. We are just completely out of time here. I know that people can participate online as well. If they can't make it at the meeting; is that correct?

ZIEBART: That is correct.


CAVANAUGH: All right. So I have to thank my guests, Lori Ziebart, Robin Kedward, I know we are going to revisit this issue. If you would like to take part in that workshop, it's on the quail brush generation project. It starts at 5:00 this afternoon at the mission trails visitors' center. And thanks, everyone, for talking with us today.

KEDWARD: Maureen, thank you very much.

ZIEBART: Thank you, Maureen.