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Carlsbad Approves New “Peaker Plant” Deal

The Carlsbad City Council has signed off on an agreement for a new gas-powered “peaker plant" to replace the Encina power plant when it is taken offline in 2018.

City leaders are coming to terms with the fact that some kind of power plant will almost certainly sit on its coastline for the foreseeable future.

Why has the city stopped fighting the proposed plant, even at a time when other San Diego communities are resisting plans to build new fossil fuel power plants?

A key factor in the city’s change of heart is the promise that the company building the new plant will tear down the 400-foot smokestack of the old one. Encina’s towering chimney has been an eyesore for decades, and is not the kind of landmark Carlsbad wants motorists passing on Interstate-5 to associate with their beachfront community.

But the underlying change is the change to San Diego’s energy landscape since the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shut down permanently last year. San Diego Gas and Electric was not interested in contracting for more power from the Carlsbad site before San Onofre’s troubles, but now the utility is highly motivated to find locations for what it calls “peaker plants." These are plants that SDG&E says would only operate at times of peak consumer demand for electricity, helping to supplement other, more sustainable sources of energy, like wind and solar.

SDG&E has thrown in an offer to move its operations yard off a piece of land west of the freeway, and transfer the property to the city.

Finally, the proposed plant is lower profile and is slated to operate only at peak times rather than full time, so it’s a better deal the one Carlsbad was fighting last year.

All of this mutual agreement does not guarantee all the permits still needed by NRG, the company that wants to build the new plant. But the California Energy Commission already signed off on the plan for a new gas-powered plant there in May 2012. That was four months after San Onofre’s radiation leak had shut the nuclear power station, leaving the Energy Commissioners aware, even back then, that they might need to keep their options open on another source of electricity.

Comments

Avatar for user 'PeteHasapopoulos'

PeteHasapopoulos | January 15, 2014 at 5:32 p.m. ― 8 months, 1 week ago

No one can say that Carlsbad didn't try to stop the proposed power plant at the California Energy Commission. However, the final word on whether a new power plant is needed and gets approved comes from the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). They don't even have an application for this new fossil fuel plant in front of them. In other words, the fight is far from over. The cities of Del Mar, Encinitas, and Solana Beach have taken a stand against any more dirty energy in our county, sending letters to the PUC to that effect. Over 20,000 people have sent messages to the PUC saying that dirty energy should not replace San Onofre. A recent poll conducted by a national polling firm found that 56% percent of SDG&E customers want clean energy to replace San Onofre and only 32% are okay with having power plants in the mix. The worst kept secret in all of this is that the lights have stayed on just fine without San Onofre and will continue to do so as local clean energy like rooftop solar keeps growing and reducing demand on the grid during "peak" hours (i.e. when the sun is blazing across our rooftops in the afternoon). Also energy efficiency in products and buildings keeps growing and reducing demand on the grid. The California Energy Commission recently released energy demand projections for our region. Demand is going down dramatically. Again, there is a reason the lights are staying on without San Onofre. SDG&E is fear mongering about blackouts and creating the false belief that more power plants are inevitable so, Carlsbad, get the best deal you can now. All you have to do is give up your option of joining the fight against more fossil fuel power plants that is forthcoming at the PUC, a fight that is winnable.

And one more bit of salt in the wound: these peaker gas plants cost electricity customers anywhere from $1 billion to $6 billion and typically host only 10-20 permanent jobs.

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