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Carlsbad’s Vote On New Peaker Plant Hinges On Removal Of Smokestack

The Encina power plant in Carlsbad, Dec 2011

Above: The Encina power plant in Carlsbad, Dec 2011

Aired 1/14/14 on KPBS News.

The iconic Encina smokestack on Carlsbad’s coastline would be demolished to make way for a new power plant, under an agreement the city council considers tonight.

Carlsbad has fought for years to get a massive power plant off its coastline. The Encina power station will be put into mothballs in 2018 because its sea-water cooling system no longer meets state environmental regulations.

But under previous proposals, there was no guarantee the 400-foot smokestack would be removed. And until now SDG&E had not signed any contract to use power from a replacement plant, so any energy produced might have gone out of the region.

Now, because the San Onofre nuclear power plant has shut down, the energy landscape in San Diego has changed. SDG&E is interested in contracting with the owner of the Carlsbad power plant, NRG, for electricity to use at times of peak consumer demand. The new plant would be gas powered like the old one, but it would be air cooled, rather than using ocean water, to meet new state mandates.

The city of Carlsbad has hammered out a memorandum of agreement with the power companies, NRG and SDG&E, allowing NRG to build the new plant, on condition that the old plant — and its smokestack — is torn down. The new plant, which would also be just west of Interstate-5, would also have chimneys, but a much lower profile. Under the "memorandum of understanding," SDG&E would also give a portion of its land west of the freeway to the cty of Carlsbad.

City spokeswoman Kristina Ray said removing the ugly smokestack off Carlsbad’s oceanfront property is an incentive for the city to approve the new plant.

“Removing that old power plant really gives the city an opportunity to reimagine what that land could be used for," she said, "in a way that’s more appropriate for the coastline.”

The California Energy Commission had already approved a new gas powered plant on the site once the Encina plant is shut down, but the one in the MOU to be considered tonight would operate less frequently.

Three other North County coastal cities, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar, have recently taken a stand to oppose any new gas powered “peaker” plants, saying San Onofre should be replaced with renewable-energy sources, like solar and wind.

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