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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.

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