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Carlsbad Fights New Power Plant On Its Coast

Aired 12/13/11 on KPBS News.

The City of Carlsbad squared off with state officials at an Energy Commission hearing in North County. The issue was whether the region needs a new power plant next to the old Encina plant, right on the coast.

The Encina power plant in Carlsbad, Dec 2011
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Above: The Encina power plant in Carlsbad, Dec 2011

One of many questions raised at the Energy Commission hearing was whether the power generated by the new air-cooled plant would even be used in San Diego. NRG owns the decades-old Encina power plant with the tall chimney on Carlsbad’s coastline. The company wants to build an air cooled plant next to it on the lagoon. But it has no agreement to provide that energy to SDG &E, making people wonder if the power is for LA.

A representative from Cal ISO, the agency that manages power supplies to meet demand in California, said the south west region might need the extra power some time in the next decade.

Energy Commissioner James Boyd said they have a point.

“We’ve shown if this area were to lose the nuclear plant, they’d be in a world of hurt. It is weak down here,” Boyd said. “So, as the Cal ISO representative indicated, worrying about the needs of this area is very important to them. That’s something we take into consideration.”

Boyd said it’s important to have enough back-up power to deal with situations like the blackout that hit San Diego and the south west in September. Others argued better transmission lines are what is really needed. But a Cal ISO attorney said transmission lines can be even more difficult to permit than power plants.

Opponents of the new plant argued it is unnecessary because SDG & E has recently made three new power purchase agreements elsewhere in San Diego County that will cover the region’s electricity needs.

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said the city wants to build tourist amenities and a large public park on the expanse of land where the Encina power plant now sits, overlooking the beach.

“The opportunity of so many acres so close to the coast ,” Hall said, “It’s an unbelievable dream of what you could do. It’s like if you have a ring and this is the diamond at the center of the ring, and to have it be left to heavy industrial use - it just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The city has changed its zoning to exclude industrial uses along the coast line.

Building a new power plant on the lagoon would also interrupt the coastal walking trail next to the rail line that is being built from Oceanside to San Diego.

The State Energy Commission has been considering this issue for years. It is expected to make a decision early in 2012.

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