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Long-Awaited Vote On Carlsbad Energy Center Due This Week

Photo credit: NRG

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.

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Decisions being made now will affect how we generate our energy for years to come.

A long-awaited vote could come Thursday that would determine whether a new gas powered "peaker” plant is built on the coast in Carlsbad at the site of the existing Encina power plant.

The Encina plant is due to be shut down in 2017.

The California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to decide whether to approve SDG&E’s plan to replace some of the power lost when San Onofre shut down with the new gas plant, called the Carlsbad Energy Center.

Opponents of the new plant, like Pete Hasapopoulos of the Sierra Club, support a recommendation made in March by a CPUC administrative law judge. The judge advised the commissioners to wait until SDG&E reviewed possible renewable power options.

“The administrative law judge, based upon the facts and after hearing expert testimony — she's already concluded that no gas plant should be approved of any sort, because SDG&E is sitting on bids from clean energy providers to get this job done,” Hasapopoulos said.

After the administrative law judge made her recommendation, new CPUC President Michael Picker recommended a slightly altered plan: to reduce the size of the Carlsbad Energy Center from 600 to 500 megawatts. That would leave an extra 100 megawatts to be generated by renewables.

Ahmed Haque of NRG, the company that wants to build the gas plant, said his company supports renewable energy sources too, but the gas fired “peaker” plant is still needed.

“Wind and solar are not available 24/7 yet, to meet the reliability needs 24 hours a day," Haque said. “You need backup generation for when the wind is not blowing and for solar when the sun is not shining. A facility like the Carlsbad Energy Center provides on-demand back up generation when it is needed that can help integrate renewable power, as well as preserve the reliability that we really take for granted."

The city of Carlsbad initially opposed the new plant, hoping to be able to use the coastal land for something less industrial. But part of the bargain NRG struck with Carlsbad was to demolish the chimney of the old Encina gas plant. The smoke stack has been a fixture on Highway 101 since the 1950s.

SDG&E comments to the CPUC

SDG&E has submitted two comments to the State Public Utilities commissioners. The first explained that it will present commission staff with information about bids it has received from renewable energy providers. The company noted that the California legislature is considering increasing access to renewable energy. In recent weeks the governor has upped the anti on his energy goals.

The second comment affirmed the company’s support of the California Energy Center, saying it would have many benefits: “not the least of which would be to facilitate the timely retirement of the region’s last once- through-cooling units (the 965 MW Encina Power Station) and to replace a costly, inefficient and high emissions power plant."

SDG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Ramp wrote:

“SDG&E has been supportive of the Carlsbad Energy Center since the permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Station in the summer of 2013.

"However, due to a delay in the Commission’s processing of our application, two things occurred: we began to see the bids in the RFO and felt compelled to encourage the Commission to review them; and as the delay continued, we began to see other regulatory and legislative events that gave us pause for some level of concern."

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