Rooftop Solar vs SDG&E’s Proposal to Build a 500-MW Gas-Fired Plant
Originally published on the ECOreport.
The battle for Carlsbad’s power continues. San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) proposal to replace the now-retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) with a $2.6 billion peaker plant is not popular in San Diego County. The City of Carlsbad tried to stop the developer, NRG Energy, from obtaining a license. According to Bill Powers, an electrical engineer and board member with the Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC), “Solar installations on rooftops and parking lots are booming in San Diego and this solar serves the same need with no climate impacts.” A California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) administrative law judge, Halie Yacknin, recommended the commission wait until they had an opposing bid from the cleantech sector. The CPUC approved the project anyway, in a 4-1 vote on May 21. The POC and Sierra Club California have both said they will file an administrative application for a rehearing.
The Battle Continues
Powers said the application will be filed sometime in June or July, after which the CPUC has 60 days to act. If they do not reverse their decision, the parties still have the option of petitioning an appellate court to review the case.
Commissioner Mike Florio, who voted for the project, said, “We all agree we are moving toward a clean energy future, that is not in dipute. The question is, how much risk do we take in that process?”
He explained the Carlsbad peaker plant will help the region transition to the era when renewable energy sources can provide a more reliable supply of electricity.
In a press release, John Chillemi, president of NRG Energy’s West region, said, “We appreciate the CPUC’s vote of confidence that the Carlsbad Energy Center is the best approach to have the appropriate, flexible capacity online by 2017 to enable California to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals through building additional renewable generation while preserving the reliability of the grid.”
NRG expects to start construction of the new 500 MW Carlsbad peaker plant facility in 2016. It should be operational before the old Encina plant (pictured above) is retired in December 2017.
SDG&E’s original proposal called for a 600 MW facility, but now 100 MW will be left for renewables.
According to Powers, the greenhouse gas emissions the Carlsbad facility produces will be the equivalent to putting nearly 160,000 more cars on the roads.
Accusations Of Backroom Deals
There have been accusations of the CPUC carrying out more backroom deals. Prior to being appointed President in January, Michael Picker spoke with leaders of state agencies and the California Independent System Operator. An NRG representative met with commission Picker’s chief of staff in early March, and Picker publicly endorsed the slightly scaled down plan for the Carlsbad Energy Center (from 600 MW to 500 MW) on April 6.
“This decision is just more of the same from the CPUC. What they did today will lock San Diego into paying for a multi-billion dollar gas plant, a proposal that was drafted behind closed doors. By allowing this gas plant to be built, we are stifling San Diego’s clean energy potential, job growth, and ambitious efforts to reduce pollution that exacerbates health issues and climate change. With Governor Brown touting California’s ambitious new greenhouse gas goals to the international community, back at home the CPUC continues to direct billions of dollars toward outdated energy sources and undermine our state’s clean energy future,” said Matt Vespa, of the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign.
Badly Needed Action On Climate Change
“This decision is an unnecessary gift to the developer. The governor just ordered state agencies to take badly needed action on climate change, yet the commissioners are allowing yet another high cost, technically unjustifiable fossil fuel-fired plant to move forward. This is a big, costly, polluting step in the wrong direction,” said Powers.
He added, “The San Diego area is overbuilt with fossil fuel power plants and there is little demand growth,” he said. “San Diego is the number two solar city in the US, and we’ve got the sunshine to get to first place. When rooftop solar is combined with the emerging energy storage solutions – like lower-cost home and industrial batteries – we can help solve the climate crisis, save money and create good jobs in the process.”
Photo Credit: The Old Encina Power Plant by Chris Hunkeler via Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
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