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Debate Heats Up Over Carlsbad Gas Plant

This undated photo shows the Encina Power Station and the site of the proposed Carlsbad Energy Center from the Pannonia Trail at Capri Park in Carlsbad.
This undated photo shows the Encina Power Station and the site of the proposed Carlsbad Energy Center from the Pannonia Trail at Capri Park in Carlsbad.

A delegation of San Diegans who want SDG&E to choose cleaner energy sources will attend Thursday's California Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco. The commission is scheduled to discuss a proposed new Carlsbad gas plant.

The commission will not vote on the proposed new Carlsbad Energy Center at the Thursday meeting. New CPUC President Michael Picker on Monday reversed a proposed decision from a CPUC administrative law judge, and recommended approval of the new gas plant to replace the obsolete Encina power plant.

The CPUC will take testimony on the issue Thursday and a final vote is due in the next few weeks.

Carlsbad Energy Center opponents
A list of elected officials and organizations that oppose the proposed Carlsbad Energy Center

Pete Hasapopoulos with the Sierra Club will be among those testifying against the new gas plant.

“If San Diego Gas and Electric gets approval for this gas plant, their customers would be on the hook for $2.6 billion," Hasapopoulos said. "To put that in perspective, that would pay for approximately 150,000 solar systems on rooftops."

But Ahmed Haque of NRG Energy, the company that wants to build the plant, said it’s not an "either-or" scenario.

“We are a strong supporter of renewable energy,” Haque said. “But there needs to be reliable generation that you can obtain on demand, and that’s what a facility like the Carlsbad Energy Center offers.”

Haque said the now obsolete Encina power plant that will be taken offline in 2017 generates almost 1,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 800,000 homes. That, combined with the loss of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which used to produce about 20 percent of the region’s power, means the new, more efficient gas plant is necessary for periods of high demand.


A CPUC administrative law judge recommended in March that the commission not approve the contract until SDG&E had reviewed bids from more sustainable energy sources.

Part of the agreement reached when San Onofre was shut down was for the power company to replace a certain amount of the lost power with cleaner, renewable energy sources.

NRG recently offered to change the contract to provide only 500 megawatts of power, rather than 600, adding 100 megawatts of power to the amount SDG&E will need to cover with renewable energy contracts.

Hasapopoulos said Picker’s move to overturn the judge's recommendation comes at a time when the Public Utilities Commission is under fire for being too cozy with utility companies.

“So, after a very long proceeding that took in all of the expert testimony, the administrative law judge said ‘no’ to SDG&E, and then President Picker dropped a bomb — and said, ‘The heck with competitive bidding, the heck with air quality and the heck with climate change,’” Hasapopoulos said. “So we oppose it adamantly.”

Editor's Note: The attached document that lists Carlsbad Energy Center opponents uses the incorrect first name for Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery.

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