The Protect Our Communities Foundation has fought development of a new gas power plant on the beach in Carlsbad, CA for years. We argued before the Public Utilities Commission and the Court of Appeals that no new plant is needed, and certainly not a fossil fuel plant on our precious coastline. POC argued that the existing Encina Plant could continue to run for a few more years during which time new renewable generation, energy efficiency measures, and energy storage would be up and running, entirely filling any claimed need for a new plant. But SDG&E and the power plant developer NRG demanded that the approval be rushed through, in conflict with the legally established process, claiming that electricity reliability in San Diego area would be at risk. SDG&E and NRG claimed that the compliance date for Encina could NOT be extended.
Unfortunately, the PUC kowtowed to the utility it is supposed to regulate and rushed to approve a contract for power from a new plant based upon ex parte communications with the applicant. Now, long after the approvals have been granted and lawsuits have been litigated, there are efforts to extend the once through cooling compliance date for Encina for a year, thereby allowing it to continue to run. This turn of events is yet another example of how captured the PUC continues to be by dishonest and greedy investor owned utilities like SDG&E. There is absolutely no need for this plant or any fossil fuel plant in California. We would all be much better off with no power plant, new or old, on the beach at Carlsbad.
-April Rose Sommer, Executive Director
San Diego Union Tribune
March 23, 2017
State officials are considering keeping the facility open through the end of 2018, when a new power station, the 500-megawatt Carlsbad Energy Center, is expected to be completed and replace the old Encina plant.
Keeping Encina open means the controversial process called “once-through cooling” that kills marine life will continue for now.
“It’s a horrible process,” said April Rose Sommer, executive director of the Protect Our Communities Foundation, one of a number of environmental and renewable energy groups that opposed the construction of the Carlsbad Energy Center.
But analysts at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) have determined the state’s power system needs to keep Encina open until construction wraps up at the Carlsbad Energy Center.
Based upon a CAISO reliability analysis, “we need generation at that spot in order to maintain grid reliability,” said Steven Greenlee, senior public information officer, at California ISO.
In 2010, California officials ruled that power plants along the coast must eventually stop using ocean water for cooling steam generators because fish, seals, sea lions, turtles and other creatures are killed because they are drawn into the cooling system or get trapped against screens.
A gradual ban was put in place, with some power plants required to shut down once-through cooling operations by as late as 2020. The deadline for Encina is Dec. 31, 2017.
That leaves a one-year gap.
So what will happen during the interim?
NRG spokesman David Knox said the company will do whatever the state instructs it to do.
“If the state determines that (Encina) is needed for reliability and the state says, ‘NRG, we want you to keep that open,’ we are going to comply,” Knox said.
And the state may do just that, if it grants a one-year extension keeping Encina online.
On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board took up the issue as an information item at its regular monthly meeting in Sacramento. The board is tentatively scheduled to vote whether to make an amendment to the once-through cooling policy for Encina at its August meeting.
The board’s actions come after recommendations from two state government bodies, including CAISO, to prolong Encina’s life though 2018.
However, before an extension is granted, the policy language would have to be amended and go out for public comment first.
San Diego Gas & Electric has partnered with NRG to buy power from the Carlsbad Energy Center, reportedly worth $2.2 billion over 20 years.
In a statement Tuesday, SDG&E spokesman Jeff Powers said the utility is working with the state and “looking for solutions to ensure reliable energy service for our customers in light of the Encina and Carlsbad Energy Center project issues.”
The potential waiver is the latest chapter in the long battle surrounding the shutting down of Encina and the construction of the Carlsbad Energy Center that accelerated in the wake of the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2013.
Opponents say the new plant is unnecessary and extends the state’s reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel.
“I can say with complete confidence that if this thing (the Carlsbad Energy Center) is never built, there won’t be a problem with reliability in the San Diego area,” Sommer said.
Sommer criticized CAISO’s history for modeling energy projects — “Their modeling is always wrong, they’re off by a dramatic amount” — and said the state’s expanding portfolio of renewables such as solar, battery storage and energy efficiency will make the Carlsbad Energy Center “a stranded asset.”
Critics also say the new plant poses an environmental threat to the nearby Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
Supporters say the new facility will help integrate renewable energy sources into the state’s grid and say opposition has slowed down the new plant’s construction timeline.
“Units like the Carlsbad Energy Center have the ability to flip the switch and 10 minutes later, they come online,” Knox said. “That’s when they are most optimal.”
Older plants like Encina, which was constructed in 1954, take between 12 to 18 hours to ramp up, Knox said.
“It’s nice to think we can do everything on wind and solar,” Knox said. “We just can’t yet … You need units like the Carlsbad Energy Center (to) keep that reliability.”
Knox said the construction has started for the Carlsbad Energy Center.
The new facility will be a “peaker plant” — a facility designed to meet surges in energy demand, such as when customers turn up their air conditioners during a heat wave. Peakers are often used only about 5 percent of the time but NRG estimates the Carlsbad Energy Center will run about 15 percent of the time.
SFG&E officials have described the facility as ”the new workhorse for the region” and say it will help California meet its target of 33 percent clean-energy generation by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.
The California Public Utilities Commission approved the Carlsbad Energy Center in a 4-1 vote in May 2015.
Opponents took the case to court but last December, the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco said it would defer to the commission’s decision.