PUC Delays Vote on SDG&E’s Proposed Fossil-Fuel Power Plants—Again—and the Sierra Club Is Pissed Off!
During a period of time when the nuclear power station at San Onofre has been disabled for a year now, there are renewed calls, according to the U-T, to allow SDG&E to proceed with their plans to build two fossil-fuel power plants. Yet, when the California Public Utilities Commission sat down to vote on the utility’s proposals yesterday, Feb. 13th, they refused to take a vote and instead delayed their decision—again—and this time for the fourth time
The San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club—who has opposed these plants—is pissed off, and they’re demanding answers—and rightfully so. The Chapter head, Lori Saldana, called it “unacceptable.”
Here is what the organization stated today:
Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission delayed a vote on San Diego Gas and Electric’s plan to build two new natural gas “peaker” plants and retrofit a third.
This was the fourth delay issued without explanation by the commission since November, when the assigned commissioner and administrative law judge issued separate proposed decisions that concluded new gas plant construction was not justified.
The CPUC was to consider two draft decisions up for some kind of decision on Wednesday, the Pio Pico plant, a 300-megawatt plant, adjacent to an existing power plant in unincorporated Otay Mesa, and the Quail Brush power plant, which is very close to Mission Trails Regional Park and opposite state Route 52. The Commission has authority to decide on whether these generators are safe and worthy projects to invest in on behalf of utility customers in San Diego and southern Orange counties.
The U-T estimates that the two gas plants, and a smaller retrofit in Escondido, would cost utility customers an estimated $2 billion over 25 years. The Sierra Club says the two plants will cost ratepayers more than $1.5 billion, and generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
According to the U-T:
Plant developers — along with the projects’ allies in the utilities industry and government — have seized on the prolonged shutdown of two reactors at San Onofre as new evidence of a pressing need for the plants.
San Diego Gas & Electric executives traveled up to San Francisco to lobby utility commissioners to reconsider, and are warning them “of a looming threat.” SDG&E President Michael Niggli reportedly told the regulators, in arguing for the new plants:
“It is uncertain what will happen with the (San Onofre) units, and it would be valuable to have an insurance policy on hand because of this uncertainty.”
Plus, the owner of the Pio Pico told the regulators that private equity funds already have dedicated tens of millions of dollars to developing these two projects. They are now warning that capital markets and merchant power developers could punish California, leading to “capital flight and inevitably questions about the integrity of (grid) reliability in the region, and ultimately leads to significantly higher rates for consumers.”
The U-T also quotes Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the Sacramento-based California Energy Commission, which licenses power plants, as among those urging the utilities commission to clear the bureaucratic roadblocks and “make the factual findings necessary for Pio Pico’s approval.” Weisenmiller is reportedly to have stated that the decision not to approve the plants “is simply untenable.”
Meanwhile, quite a constellation of politicos, environmental and consumer groups have lined up in opposition to the plants, joining the Sierra Club. They include San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, County Supervisor Diane Jacob, and San Diego Association of Governments Chair Jack Dale, the League of Women Voters of San Diego and statewide consumer advocate The Utility Reform Network (TURN).
The Sierra Club also has mobilized its base, and more than 8,000 Sierra Club members and supporters from across California sent messages to the commissioners saying that natural gas plants are 20th century technology that should not be allowed to divert California from our successful clean energy path.
Lori Saldaña, Chair of the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter, also stated:
“The commission’s ongoing refusal to hold a vote on these proposed dirty fossil fuel plants is unacceptable. This scheme would build natural gas plants that we don’t need, cost ratepayers more than $1.5 billion, and generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases. It would also be a giant step backward for San Diego at a time when our local clean energy industry is thriving.
For instance, San Diego County leads the nation with 15,000 rooftop solar installations on homes and businesses. … On behalf of the thousands of San Diegans concerned about the negative environmental and economic effects this plan would generate, we demand that the commission stop these needless delays and proceed with a vote to reject these dirty, expensive, and unnecessary fossil fuel plants.”
Nicole Capretz of the Environmental Health Coalition was also quoted by the U-T; she believes state regulators and the public are being misinformed. Capretz stated:
“To the general member of the public it does seem like, ‘Oh no, San Onofre’s out, we need to build more power plants locally. It is just that the facts don’t support that.”