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Commission Opts To Compare Alternatives Before Voting On Carlsbad Power Plant

Photo caption:

Photo credit: California Public Utilities Commission

Michael Picker is pictured in this undated photo.

The California Public Utilities Commission has decided not to approve SDG&E's proposed contract for a new power plant in Carlsbad until they have more information about renewable alternatives.

The California Public Utilities Commission decided not to approve SDG&E'S proposed contract for a new natural gas power plant in Carlsbad until they have more information about renewable alternatives.

CPUC President Michael Picker kicked off Thursday's commissioners’ discussion of the power plant by saying it presented difficult choices.

The proposed Carlsbad Energy Center has been in the works for years, but the commissioners decided they need a few more weeks before they can vote on whether to approve a contract for 500 megawats of power from the plant, to built by NRG.

The plant is on the site of the existing Encina plant, which will be taken off line in 2017, but it is intended to help replace the power lost when San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was shut down in 2012.

All the commissioners are aware that both the meteorological and the political climates are changing, and that the focus now is on cutting carbon emissions.

Commissioner Mike Florio said if they approve this plant, it could be the last fossil fuel plant built in Southern California. But he said, there will be a “huge hole in the grid” after Encina closes: combining about 2,000 megawatts from San Onofre and about 1,000 from Encina.

Picker said he is not eager to approve another fossil fuel plant, but he reminded his colleagues of the blackouts that occurred in 2011 and stressed that regional energy reliability is at stake. The plant would be a “peaker plant” he said, not intended to run 24/7 but able to power up quickly if demand outstrips supply.

It appeared that Picker and Florio would have been ready to approve the Carlsbad plant. But the other three commissioners, Liane Randolf, Carla Peterman and Catherine Sandoval, talked about the importance of moving to lower carbon alternatives, and the potential of missing an opportunity if they approved the gas plant without considering renewable options.

SDG&E put out a request for proposals from renewable energy providers and only this week presented the commission staff with the results of the bids that have come in.

Sandoval said she wants to compare the cost of renewable energy sources from these bids with the $2.6 billion cost of the proposed new fossil fuel plant.

“I mean, when you look at the price, this is not a cheap price that we’re asking the rate payers to pay,” she said. “You know, the only thing right now we can compare it to is other things that we’ve approved in the past, and I’m not ready to act based on information that is not in the record that was brought to us at the very last minute.”

“I am concerned about us approving a contract of this size, both in megawatts and in dollars amounts - that’s steel in the ground that will be there 30 to 50 years - without waiting for those results," Peterman said.

After the decision, Matt Vespa of the Sierra Club, one of the opponents of the gas plant, called it a positive turn of events.

"As they continue to discuss San Diego’s energy needs we hope that they think through what is best for the future of these communities and reject another hand out to the fossil fuel industry,” he wrote in a release.

The commissioners agreed to come back to the issue at their next meeting at the end of this month.

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