Power plant protest brings out community

CARLSBAD — When a grass-roots group held a press conference in Cannon Park on April 16 to announce it has gathered 1,400 signatures opposing plans for a new power plant, members of City Council were present to show their support.
The city of Carlsbad has also long opposed plans for a 540-megawatt plant to be built on the property of the existing Encina Power station, expressing concerns about the plans on prime coastal property.
NRG West, a division of NRG Energy, and Cabrillo Power, has proposed building two new power-generating units to replace three of the five steam-boilers at the current plant.
Officials from NRG West have said they are phasing in the new air-cooled units to phase out the old, so the new technology will replace the old.
“We will be replacing three old generating units, with cleaner ones, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases by 30 percent,“ David Lloyd, director of community relations for NRG Energy, said. In addition, he said, there will be less need for ocean water, something those concerned with the marine environment should be happy about.
However, many residents remain skeptical because officials from NRG have said they cannot give a timeframe as to when the two remaining boilers at the old plant will be shut down. The plant was built in the early 1950s.
In response to many of the unanswered questions, a group calling itself Power of Vision formed last year to oppose plans.
Members of City Council also oppose the location, but point out that they would support the plant being built elsewhere in the city and are supportive of regional facilities, such as the desalination plant.
Visual impacts, air quality and overall quality-of-life issues remain concerns, they said.
“It is the wrong plant in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Julie Nygaard, a former city councilwoman, said.
However, the city has little control over the plant’s approval, and the California Energy Commission is expected to make a ruling on the plans later this year.
Since the two new units would be air-cooled, using very little water, the Coastal Commission has said it does not need to review the plans.
However, the energy commission expressed concerns in the past as to where the plant will get enough fresh water needed for the air-cooled generating units. NRG West has responded with a proposal for its own desalination plant, separate from the large private one already approved for the same property.
Spokesperson Kerry Siekmann and other Terramar homeowners joined the protest at Cannon Park as well, expressing concerns over the extra emissions from the new smokestacks while both plants are running for the unspecified period of time.
Before the current smokestack was heightened in the late 1970s, Mayor Bud Lewis said a film of black soot could be found on cars in nearby Car Country Carlsbad. The new plant will add two new 139-foot smokestacks to the property.
Lloyd pointed out that the air quality has been greatly improved in the past several years, and that the proposed plant with the newer technology is needed to make even bigger strides to clean up the air.
Lloyd said the new plant will result in a reduction of the NOX gases, a precursor to ozone, by 80 percent and a reduction in CO by 90 percent.
“We will get more megawatts, for less gas, and much cleaner,” Lloyd said.
Although the new plant will produce enough energy to power 400,000 homes, Siekmann said that SDG&E has no current plans to purchase any of the power for the San Diego area.
Siekmann said Los Angeles has a moratorium on the building of power plants, and that it is possible the power generated here, affecting our air quality, may be used elsewhere.
However, Lloyd said he believes most, if not all, the power will stay in the San Diego area.
Meanwhile, the city of Carlsbad has come up with one way to reduce the need for power in the city. City Council approved April 14 the installation of new hydroelectric turbines in a pipe that carries water to the Maerkle Reservoir in the eastern part of Carlsbad. The turbines will supply enough power to operate the city water system and eventually save the city enough money to pay for itself. In addition, city officials said, long-term plans are to expand the project to power all the city-owned facilities. The Maerkle Reservoir was one of the alternative sites given to NRG as a place to build the second power plant, but it was turned down by energy officials due to its proximity to McClellan-Palomar Airport.

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